Biology Magazine

Brain Activity Map

Posted on the 26 February 2013 by Ccc1685 @ccc1685

The biggest news for neuroscientists in President Obama’s State of the Union Address was the announcement of the Brain Activity Map (BAM) project (e.g. see here and here). The goal of this project as outlined in this Neuron paper is to develop the technological capability to measure the spiking activity of every single neuron in the brain simultaneously. I used to fantasize about such a project a decade ago but now I’m more ambivalent. Although the details of the project have not been announced, people involved are hoping for 300 million dollars per year for ten years. I do believe that a lot will be learned in pursuing such a project but it may also divert resources for neuroscience towards this one goal. Given that the project is mostly technological, it may also mostly bring in new engineers and physicists to neuroscience rather than fund current labs. It could be a huge boon for computational neuroscience because the amount of data that will be recorded will be enormous. It will take a lot of effort just to curate this data much less try to analyze and makes sense of it. Finally, on a cautionary note, it could be that much of the data will be superfluous. After all, we understand how gases behave (at least enough to design refrigerators and airplanes, etc.) without measuring the positions and velocities of every molecule in a room. I’m not sure we would have figured out the ideal gas law, the Carnot cycle, or the three laws of thermodynamics if we just relied on an “Air Activity Map Project” a century ago. There is probably a lot of compression going on in the brain. If we knew how this compression worked, we could then just measure the nonredundant information. That would certainly make the BAM project a whole lot easier.

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