What is Big Think?  

We are Big Idea Hunters…

We live in a time of information abundance, which far too many of us see as information overload. With the sum total of human knowledge, past and present, at our fingertips, we’re faced with a crisis of attention: which ideas should we engage with, and why? Big Think is an evolving roadmap to the best thinking on the planet — the ideas that can help you think flexibly and act decisively in a multivariate world.

A word about Big Ideas and Themes — The architecture of Big Think

Big ideas are lenses for envisioning the future. Every article and video on bigthink.com and on our learning platforms is based on an emerging “big idea” that is significant, widely relevant, and actionable. We’re sifting the noise for the questions and insights that have the power to change all of our lives, for decades to come. For example, reverse-engineering is a big idea in that the concept is increasingly useful across multiple disciplines, from education to nanotechnology.

Themes are the seven broad umbrellas under which we organize the hundreds of big ideas that populate Big Think. They include New World Order, Earth and Beyond, 21st Century Living, Going Mental, Extreme Biology, Power and Influence, and Inventing the Future.

Big Think Features:

12,000+ Expert Videos


Browse videos featuring experts across a wide range of disciplines, from personal health to business leadership to neuroscience.

Watch videos

World Renowned Bloggers


Big Think’s contributors offer expert analysis of the big ideas behind the news.

Go to blogs

Big Think Edge


Big Think’s Edge learning platform for career mentorship and professional development provides engaging and actionable courses delivered by the people who are shaping our future.

Find out more

Brain Reading: Scientists Hope to Build a Simulated Brain in 12 Years

April 19, 2012, 8:00 AM

What's the Big Idea?

A group of scientists have laid out an ambitious plan to tackle one of the grand challenges facing mankind in the early 21st century--develop a supercomputer that can simulate the brain.

"This is one of the three grand challenges for humanity," notes Professor Henry Markram, Director of the Blue Brain Project at École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland. "We need to understand earth, space and the brain," Markram says. "We need to understand what makes us human."

How ambitious is Professor Markram's plan?

In the 1960s, John F. Kennedy set the goal of landing on the moon within the decade. Markram, a former doctor turned computer engineer, has set a goal of 12 years to "put a ghost into a machine," as Jonah Lehrer put it in a recent post in Seed magazine

So far, Markram's team has simulated part of a rat’s brain using a computer. But "Team Frankenstein," as the German media have dubbed the researchers, isn't stopping there. As Lehrer notes, Markram's so-called 'Blue Brain project' has now reached a critical juncture:

The first phase of the project—“the feasibility phase”—is coming to a close. The skeptics, for the most part, have been proven wrong. It took less than two years for the Blue Brain supercomputer to accurately simulate a neocortical column, which is a tiny slice of brain containing approximately 10,000 neurons, with about 30 million synaptic connections between them. “The column has been built and it runs,” Markram says. “Now we just have to scale it up.” Blue Brain scientists are confident that, at some point in the next few years, they will be able to start simulating an entire brain. “If we build this brain right, it will do everything,” Markram says. 

What's the Significance?

According to Professor Markram, the Blue Brain supercomputer, when completed, will "help two billion people annually who suffer from some type of brain impairment."

In addition to shedding light on neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, Blue Brain could help scientists understand how we think and make decisions. To accomplish this, Blue Brain will integrate an enormous amount of data -- an estimated 60,000 scientific papers published every year -- into one platform. This information will then be visualized in three-dimensional images "built around a semi-circular 'cockpit' so scientists can virtually 'fly' around different areas and watch how they communicate with each other," reports Tamara Cohen in The Daily Mail.  

What impact will this technology have on science?

In the video below, Columbia University neuroscientist Dr. Joy Hirsch explains the grand challenge of reverse-engineering the human brain. 

Watch the video here:

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

Follow Daniel Honan on Twitter @Daniel Honan


Brain Reading: Scientists H...

Newsletter: Share: