Of mice and megabytes
Bloggers respond to the BBC's report on a supercomputer that simulates half of a mouse's brain.
The BBC on Friday ran a piece about a team from IBM and the University of Nevada that has created a model simulation of half a mouse brain on a BlueGene L supercomputer. Well actually, it simulates only a portion of half a mouse brain's cortical cells. And actually, it simulates only a portion of their functionality. And it was able to run at only one-tenth the processing speed of the real thing.
It was still a major accomplishment, though, since they were able to overcome problems surrounding the "tremendous constraints on computation, communication and memory capacity of any computing platform," the BBC reports.
The blogosphere was overrun with clever headlines, and Jamais Cascio even posted a shot of Pinky and the Brain--the lab mice who plan to take over the world on Warner Brothers' Tiny Toons. We'll let him deal with the copyright people on that one.
Blog community response:
"I, for one, welcome our new cyber-mouse overlords!...(T)his is a simulation of a cortical network with the size, link complexity and signal activity of a mouse brain, but without the structure--so, arguably, it isn't a really a simulated mouse brain, but a functional platform upon which a mouse brain sim could run. Depending upon your perspective, this is a minor quibble or makes all the difference.
--Open the Future
"Mice still too slick for supercomputers...Humans may have the ability to destroy the world, fly to the moon and build an information superhighway, but for some reason we still can't figure out how a mouse thinks...There's just one hitch: The supercomputer is lagging behind half a mouse brain on a one to ten ratio. The mouse can literally run circles on the CPU with ease."
--QJ Science blog
" I still believe that no matter how good a brain simulation a computer can create, it will never become an independent mind. Animal brains are electrochemical systems and simulating just synapse firing patterns will never approximate the effect of neurotransmitters and hormones on the brain."
"That's a lot of computer firepower for one second of mouse brain activity. So, it's going to take a lot of effort to attain, say, a whole week's worth of mouse brain...By the way, my guess is that one second of mouse thought involves food, sex or survival.
--Trouble Ain't Over