Europe’s Human Brain Project – can a billion Euros buy a brain?

In January Henry Markram got a late Christmas present.  After intense international competition, Markram’s quest for a brain simulation received one of the largest grants in the history of science – 500 million euros from Europe’s new Technology “Flagship” program.

The European Human Brain project is a large expansion of Markram’s “Blue Brain” efforts which have made amazing progress over the past several years.  With this level of funding the HBP appears to have left the USA’s DARPA SyNAPSE as something of a funding pauper.    However as politicians begin to recognize the significance of thinking computers DARPA is likely to get much higher funding.

From the HBP Executive Summary: 

We propose that the HBP should be organised in three phases, lasting a total of ten years.
For the first two and a half years (the “ramp-up” phase),
the project should focus on setting up the initial versions of
the ICT platforms and on seeding them with strategically selected data. At the end of this phase, the platforms should be
ready for use by researchers inside and outside the project.
For the following four and a half years (the “operational
phase”), the project should intensify work to generate strategic data and to add new capabilities to the platforms, while
simultaneously demonstrating the value of the platforms for
basic neuroscience research and for applications in medicine
and future computing technology.
In the last three years (the “sustainability phase”), the
project should continue these activities while simultaneously
moving towards financial self-sustainability – ensuring that
the capabilities and knowledge it has created become a permanent asset for European science and industry

Brain-i-Nets Mission = General Artificial Intelligence.

As the hunt for general artificial intelligence aka “thinking, conscious machines” heats up some of the more promising projects are getting a modest level of funding, and it now seems likely we’ll have some significant progress over the next few years. Hopefully

We’ve written a lot about DARPA SyNAPSE and the BLUE BRAIN projects, but a new exciting one in Europe (not sure about the name though) is called …



Novel Brain‐Inspired Learning Paradigms for Large‐Scale
Neuronal Networks

• Our vision: To build a novel type of computing
machinery, exhibiting human‐like learning

• Our approach: To port leaning and adaptation
mechanisms in the brain to brain‐inspired

• Our path: An interdisciplinary roadmap from
neuroscience to technology.
•Explore: Use cutting‐edge techniques to gain
insight in how the brain learns.

•Understand: Understand the results through
mathematical analysis and simulation.

• Implement: Study the implementation in novel
brain‐inspired hardware.


Read more at the University of Heidleberg’s Brain-i-Nets website

New Artificial Intelligence Initiative Begins in group of European Universities

A new initiative to develop something of a “strong AI” computer has begun in Europe, coordinated by this group:

Strong AI is, for many, the “holy grail” of computing and in general terms means the development of a machine that thinks as well or better than a human.    Computers already have surpassed humans in most very focused intelligence tasks such as mathematical calculations, game playing, most forms of data analysis, and many more of the tasks we often use to define  “intelligence”.     However no machine comes close to the capabilities of a full human brain at this time, our remarkable three pound package that includes a high level of consciousness and self-awareness, adaptive mechanisms, deep creativity, and more.

With a fairly modest budget compared to the DARPA SyNAPSE,  Brain-i-nets goals appear more modest.   Science Daily suggests the goal as:

The scientists want to design a new generation of neuro-computers based on the principles of calculation and learning mechanisms found in the brain, and at the same time gain new knowledge about the brain’s learning mechanisms.

The Brain-i-nets website puts this …. somewhat differently, leading one to wonder if they were writing for public understanding or a science fiction movie script:

The goal of this project is to produce a set of rules for synaptic plasticity and network reorganisation that describe the actual adaptive processes that take place in the living brain during learning and to port these rules into current and next-generation neuromorphic hardware.

“Future Emerging Technologies” (FET) is the key agency behind   “Brain-i-Nets” which appears to have a budget of about 2.6 million Euros (though I’m not clear if this is just the matching partner funding or the entire budget).

The research partnership includes the University College London, the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne, the French Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg und the University of Zurich.