Europe’s human brain project comes under attack

The brain

Above: The brain

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Hundreds of European neuroscience experts are threatening to boycott an effort to create a computer simulation of the brain if a 10-year, $1.6 billion initiative isn’t handled properly.

In an open letter from Zachary Mainen, a neuroscientist at the Champalimaud Center for the Unknown in Lisbon, Mainen states he will not apply for Human Brain Project partnering projects due to poorly managed funds and a narrow scope. More than 180 neuroscientists in Europe join Mainen in this pledge.

One of the main goals of the HBP is to simulate the brain, and this is the part in which Mainen and other neuroscientists have objections. Mainen believes continuing with a computer simulation of the brain will set Europe back in terms of scientific progress.

Another concern is the recent dissolution of the project’s Cognitive Architecture branch. This is that part that would have further explored the behavioral implications of the research around a computer-simulated brain. Mainen believes dissolving this branch is a departure of the entire cognitive-neuroscience aspect of the HBP.

In response to Mainen’s letter, Dr. Henry Markram, a neuroscientist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology and director of the HBP, said he is dedicated to communicating more clearly what the project is all about.

Markram is addressing the concerns brought forward in the letter and intends to communicate more about the project, including where the funding will go. He hopes his communications and attempt to increase transparency around the project will help ease concerns and increase scientific contributions to human brain studies.

The HBP was founded in 2013 and is considered to be Europe’s flagship contribution to neuroscience. The project’s intention was to gather neuroscientists and computer engineers around the world together to develop tools and ideas around studying the brain.