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

2013 International CES. January 8-11 in Las Vegas

January 2013 brings us the world’s top consumer technology show, International CES.   Technology Report will again be reporting live from this year’s show.  Stay tuned for our pre-CES coverage including profiles of the keynotes, companies, special sessions, CES Performances and Celebrities, and those amazing CES parties.   As the economy revives we’ll expect to see the new consumer technologies out in top form at this year’s show.

The Official 2013 International CES Website is here:  http://www.cesweb.org/

CES 2012 Where Art Thou?

Flight delays are keeping me from CES 2012 until later this afternoon so the least I can do is link out to the many great folks covering this conference.  CES is one of the most reported technology events in the world with some … wait for it … 6000 press folks, analysts, and bloggers reporting on the CES showcased technologies.    There’s been a fair amount of buzz about Microsoft’s “final” keynote at this year’s CES 2012, but my guess is that this conference will continue to be one of the world’s dominant forces in technology promotion for many years to come.

CES 2012 at Engadget

CES 2012 at Gizmodo

CES 2012 at Forbes

CES 2012 at CNET

CES 2012 at

CES 2012 … Let the Technology BEGIN!

CES 2012, the world’s most celebrated showcase of consumer technology with over 100,o00 attendees and over 2500 exhibitors, will begin tonight with a keynote from Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer.    You can watch it live here:  http://www.microsoft.com/presspass/events/ces/

We’ll be flying in late tonight and start our live show coverage tomorrow morning the keynotes from the ‘Silvers Summit’ over at the Retirement Information blog, Retire USA.    The Silvers Summit is a showcase of technologies focused on the senior market and will includes health care and lifestyle tech innovations.

Tomorrow afternoon we’ll be on the show floor looking for the “next big thing” and maybe even finding it.   One of the challenges at CES is the sheer size – thousands of exhibitors compete for attention and it’s impossible to give anybody much of your time.   However we’ll also try to send you off to the blogs that have large teams working CES as they’ll do a more comprehensive job of covering the show than we can here at Technology Report.   Some great CES Resources are:

CNET at CES:  http://ces.cnet.com/

Engadget at CES  http://www.engadget.com/

Gizmodo at CES:  http://gizmodo.com/5874370/we-are-liveblogging-the-hell-out-of-ces

 

 

 

—- Press Release from Consumer Electronics Association regarding CES 2012 ——–

Las Vegas, Nev., January 9, 2012 – With more than 100 products introduced at the CES Unveiled event last night and press day opening today, the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA)® announces that the 2012 International CES will be the association’s second largest show in history when show floor opens on Tuesday. For a sneak peek at the show floor before it opens, visitCES’s YouTube channel and for a look at the innovation from CES Unveiled, click here.

The 1.851 million net square feet of show floor will open tomorrow, as more than 2,700 companies debut the next generation of innovative products across all sectors of the consumer electronics industry. The 2011 show welcomed 149,529 technology attendees and spanned more than 1.6 million net square feet of exhibit space. The largest CES was in 2008, with a record-breaking 1.857 million net square feet of exhibit space.

“CES is the global stage for innovation,” said Gary Shapiro, president and CEO, CEA. “Every major technology company across the globe is participating in force at this year’s CES. While many exhibit on the show floor, others send key executives to conduct meetings, participate in keynote panels, or hold their own events in Las Vegas this week to take advantage of the braintrust of technology professionals gathered here.” In addition to the 2,700 exhibitors at this year’s show, every major tech company, including Apple, Facebook, Twitter, HP and Dell, is sending significant delegations to CES, the world’s largest consumer technology tradeshow.

CEA expects this year’s CES will be the most innovative show on record, with more than 20,000 new products slated to be announced this week. While the doors to the 2012 CES show floor officially open on Tuesday, news has already started to leak highlighting new innovations and products before many of these companies have even held their press conferences:

  • TV manufacturer Vizio is introducing a line-up of laptops and desktops, including two Ultrabooks.
  • Nokia will debut the Lumia 900 smartphone, a Windows Phone with LTE support, to be sold at AT&T this spring.
  • Lenovo enters the television market by unveiling the K91Smart TV running Google’s Android 4.0.
  • LG Electronics announced a variety of LED-based TVs with bezels under 5mm in width for a nearly all-picture look, as well as a 55-inch OLED TV.
  • Specialty glass producer Corning plans to introduce Gorilla Glass 2, a harder, thinner and more scratch resistant glass that could pave the way for the production of thinner and sturdier tablets and smartphones.
  • Intel plans to offer a slew of affordable Ultrabooks in partnership with HPAsusLG and others.
  • OLPC announced the XO 3.0 tablet, a tablet for the world’s poorest children.
  • Tobii Technology showed new eye-tracking technology that allows users to scroll, play and navigate using their eyes and without touching a mouse.
  • Parrot AR Drone 2.0, which was first launched at CES 2010, once again wowed attendees at CESUnveiled last night with better location and orientation sensors.
  • SolarFocus’ Kindle e-reader case provides 50 hours of onboard reading light powered by a solar panel on the front of the case.
  • 3M Touch Systems, a multi-user, widescreen touch table, allows for an impressive maximum 60 touch points and up to four split screens.

With more than 5,000 members of the press covering the International CES, this week is slated to be packed with new announcements from CE companies of all sizes. According to CNET, “this is the most preshow news we’ve seen in years, both in terms of formal announcements and flat-out leaks.” Breaking coverage of all the latest CES news can also be found at CESweb.org/news, and B-roll HD footage can be found at CESweb.org/press/CES-B-roll.htm.  Since 1967, CES has been the launch pad for several major technology innovations.

SyNAPSE Chip: “Someday, you’ll work for ME!”

SyNAPSE Project Chip

SyNAPSE Project AI Neuromorphic Chip

IBM’s Aug 18th Press Release announced another significant milestone for the DARPA SyNAPSE project, the world’s best funded and arguably the “most likely to succeed” approach to creating a general artificial intelligence.

The release notes that the new chips represent a departure from traditional models of computing:

…. cognitive computers are expected to learn through experiences, find correlations, create hypotheses, and remember – and learn from – the outcomes, mimicking the brains structural and synaptic plasticity.

To do this, IBM is combining principles from nanoscience, neuroscience and supercomputing as part of a multi-year cognitive computing initiative. The company and its university collaborators also announced they have been awarded approximately $21 million in new funding from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) for Phase 2 of the Systems of Neuromorphic Adaptive Plastic Scalable Electronics (SyNAPSE) project.

As we’ve noted here many times, another remarkable project is the Blue Brain Project in Europe spearheaded by Dr. Henry Markram.     That team has joined with many others and is in the process of applying to the European Union for substantial funding – perhaps as much as 1.6 billion dollars.    Although Blue Brain tends to shy away from stating that their objective is a general artificial intelligence,  I would argue that they should have that goal and also that they are much more likely to be funded by stating that goal in no uncertain terms.

Unfortunately there remain many both in and outside of technology circles who believe the search for a general artificial intelligence is either dangerous or a waste of time and money.   Both these scenarios are possible but unlikely.   Sure, intelligence can be dangerous but given human history compared to technology history it seems odd to argue that we are more likely to create a Frankenstein than a helpful machine process.    Computers don’t kill people, people kill people.

In terms of a waste of time and money, clearly we humans have overrated our intelligence for some time – probably since the beginning of self-awareness.   There are few rational reasons to reject the idea that we cannot duplicate processes that are similar to our own thinking in a machine.   The advantages of machine based intelligence are likely to be  substantial – probably on the order of a new human age with vastly improved resource efficiency, poverty reduction, and more.  Thus the costs – currently measured in the low tens of millions – pale in comparison to almost all other government projects – many with massively dubious and negative ROIs.

Got Google Hardware?

Reuters reports today on the delays in the Google Chrome Netbook which will push the device launch into the middle of 2011.    Although it’s far too early to see if Google can break into the hardware business profitably, it’s somewhat surprising how difficult is has been for Google to branch out successfully into hardware adventures like smartphones and netbooks:  http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE6B65H620101207

My take is that Google is very concerned about protecting it’s dominant and hugely profitable online advertising empire, and is working hard to find ways to make sure they can capitalize on the boom in mobile device usage.     However I think all parties are exaggerating the profits to be had in mobile.   Tiny screens mean far less real estate on which to advertise.  Also, difficulties with targeting, advertising fatigue, and many other factors suggest to me that even as mobile online use explodes the profits from this may not, although larger screens and more netbooks could help preserve the existing advertising streams indefinitely.

As always we’ll have to stay tuned to see how this new online landscape shakes out.

Google and China

One of the highest stakes games in technology is playing out right now as Google decides whether it will continue to maintain major Google China operations or retreat to the USA where the rules regarding censorship and government control over content are considerably more … progressive.

Reuters Reports on the latest Google v China cyber conflict

Today the Chinese Government actually warned Google about conducting itself in ways favorable to China policy *even if they leave the country* in what presumably is a threat to block Google search, effectively ceding almost all China searches to Baidu, China’s search giant which very ironically has a far more capitalistic bent than Google search.    On Baidu, companies can buy their search presence without Google’s higher levels of separation of advertising and natural search results.

The opportunity here for Baidu, and perhaps Microsoft Bing, may be extraordinary as Google’s search presence has been unassailable in the USA where it now appears they may throw in the towel in China, leaving the world’s largest and most potentially lucrative search market up for grabs even though it should be noted that currently gaming is a much bigger online market than search in Asia.   Also that Asia search portals are not nearly as lucrative as in the USA.     However this is likely to change as China’s newfound influence and affluence blossoms.

Apple iPad

Update: Well, the reviews seem a bit mixed from the tech crowd even as the TV news stories are about the best thing Apple could have hoped for – breathless anchors telling us how much they want an iPad.

Wall Street Journal has a good summary of the early buzz. My take so far is that these are the key features in play:

“low price” “giant iPhone” “many applications” “high quality” “no still or video camera” “potential typing challenges”

This morning Apple launched what is almost certain to become the new tablet computing standard, the Apple iPad. Reviews will be coming in at a lightning pace today and we’ll try to summarize them later, but in the meantime here’s a great “Everything you need to know about the iPad” piece from the Gizmodo people.

Apple iPAD launches

Computers at CES?




ASUS at CES

Originally uploaded by JoeDuck

There are more different types, sizes, and brands of computers at CES than you can shake a stick at, though Apple is always conspicuously absent. In fact the Apple Tablet somewhat overshadowed much of the innovations of the Las Vegas show because clearly the Apple Tablet is going to be the “one to beat”, especially given the lack of any clearly “superb” tablet offering at CES.

Although I have not done enough research to generalize much about the best new PCs I think it’s clear that the mainsteam trend is towards smaller laptops and netbooks with robust features. Costs are going down – features that would have been unheard of at any cost 5 years ago are now standard on even a modest PC. Battery life is impressive and getting better – one of the ASUS PCs shown here had a battery that lasted something like 10 hours.

ASUS also has a new interesting line of *very large* laptops with high quality speakers built into the sides of the chassis to the left and right of the screen. Although heavy, these will offer huge power and a “desktop” feel for your mobile computing. Still, I think weight is the key factor driving down PC size and predict it’ll be the netbooks that dominate the market for the next few years.

Neuroscience Expert Dr. Henry Markram on the IBM “Cat Brain” Simulation: “IBM’s claim is a HOAX”

Editors Note:   We’re hoping for more information from Dr. Modha who is also welcome to a Guest post here at Technology Report.

——   Guest Post by Dr. Henry Markram of the Blue Brain Project —-

IBM’s claim is a HOAX.

This is a mega public relations stunt – a clear case of scientific deception of the public. These simulations do not even come close to the complexity of an ant, let alone that of a cat. IBM allows Mohda to mislead the public into believing that they have simulated a brain with the complexity of a cat – sheer nonsense.

Here are the scientific reasons why this is a hoax and misleading PR stunt:

How complex is their model?
They claim to have simulated over a billion neurons interacting. Their so called “neurons” are the tiniest of points you can imagine, a microscopic dot. Over 98% of the volume of a neuron is branches (like a tree). They just cut off all the branches and roots and took a point in the middle of the trunk to represent a entire neuron. In real life, each segment of the branches of a neuron contains dozens of ion channels that powerfully controls the information processing in a neuron. They have none of that. Neurons contain 10’s of thousands of proteins that form a network with 10’s of millions of interactions. These interactions are incredibly complex and will require solving millions of differential equations. They have none of that. Neurons contain around 20’000 genes that produce products called mRNA, which builds the proteins. The way neurons build proteins and transport them to all the corners of the neuron where they are needed is an even more complex process which also controls what a neuron is, its memories and how it will process information. They have none of that. They use an alpha function (up fast down slow) to simulate a synaptic event. This is a completely inaccurate representation of a synapse. There are at least 6 types of synapses that are highly non-linear in their transmission (i.e. that transform inputs and not only transmit inputs). In fact you would need a 10’s of thousands of differential equations to simulate one synapse. Synapses are also extremely complex molecular machines that would themselves require thousands of differential equations to simulate just one. They simulated none of this. There are complex differential equations that must be solved to simulate the ionic flow in the branches, to simulate the ion channels biophysics, the protein-protein interactions, as well as the complete biochemical and genetic machinery as well as the synaptic transmission between neurons. 100’s of thousands of more differential equations. They have none of this. Then there are glia – 10 times more than neurons..And the blood supply…and more and more. These “points” they simulated and the synapses that they use for communication are literally millions of times simpler than a real cat brain. So they have not even simulated a cat’s brain at more than one millionth of it’s complexity.

Is it nonetheless the biggest point neuron simulation ever run?
No. These people simulated 1 billion points interacting. They used a formulation to model the summing up and threshold spiking of the “points” called the Izhikevik Formulation (an extremely simple equation). Eugene Izhikevik himself already in 2005 ran a simulation with 100 billion such points interacting just for the fun of it: (over 60 times larger than Modha’s simulation). This simulation ran on a cluster of desktop PCs and which every graduate student can run This is no technical achievement and certainly not even a record number of point neurons. That model exhibited oscillations, but that always happens so even simulating 100 Billion such points interacting is light years away from a brain.
see: http://www.izhikevich.org/human_brain_simulation/Blue_Brain.htm#Simulation%20of%20Large-Scale%20Brain%20Models

Is the simulator they built a big step?
Not even close. There are numerous proprietary and peer-reviewed neurosimulators (e.g., NCS, pNEURON, SPLIT, NEST) out there that can handle very large parallel models that are essentially only bound by the available memory. The bigger the machine you have available, the more neurons you can simulate. All these simulators apply optimizations for the particular platform in order to make optimal use of the available hardware. Without any comparison to existing simulators, their publication is a non-peer reviewed claim.

Did they learn anything about the brain?
They got very excited because they saw oscillations. Oscillations are an obligatory artifact that one always gets when many points interact. These findings that they claim on the neuroscience side may excite engineers, but not neuroscientists.

Why did they get the Gordon Bell Prize?
They submitted a non-peer reviewed paper to the Gordon Bell Committee and were awarded the prize almost instantly after they made their press release. They seem to have been very successful in influencing the committee with their claim, which technically is not peer-reviewed by the respective community and is neuroscientifically outrageous.

But is there any innovation here?
The only innovation here is that IBM has built a large supercomputer – which is irrelevant to the press release.

Why did IBM let Mohda make such a deceptive claim to the public?
I don’t know. Perhaps this is a publicity stunt to promote their supercompter. The supercomputer industry is suffering from the financial crisis and they probably are desperate to boost their sales. It is so disappointing to see this truly great company allow the deception of the public on such a grand scale.

But have you not said you can simulate the Human brain in 10 years?
I am a biologist and neuroscientist that has studied the brain for 30 years.  I know how complex it is. I believe that with the right resources and the right strategy it is possible. We have so far only simulated a small part of the brain at the cellular level of a rodent and I have always been clear about that.

Would other neuroscientists agree with you?
There is no neuroscientist on earth that would agree that they came even close to simulating the cat’s brain – or any brain.

But did Mohda not collaborate with neuroscientists?
I would be very surprised if any neuroscientists that he may have had in his DARPA consortium realized he was going to make such an outrages claim. I can’t imagine that that the San Fransisco neuroscientists knew he was going to make such a stupid claim. Modha himself is a software engineer with no knowledge of the brain.

But did you not collaborate with IBM?
I was collaborating with IBM on the Blue Brain Project at the very beginning because they had the best available technology to faithfully allow us to integrate the diversity and complexity found in brain tissue into a model. This for me is a major endeavor to advance our insights into the brain and drug development. Two years ago, when the same Dharmendra Mhoda claimed the “mouse-scale simulations”, I cut all neuroscience collaboration with IBM because this is an unethical claim and it deceives the public.

What IBM allowed Modha to do here is not only wrong, but outrageous. They deceived millions of people.

Henry Markram
Blue Brain Project