Why and How Can We Decipher Brain Mechanisms in Three Years, 2013 – 2015
We often encounter a doubtful attitude towards our project: “What’s the matter? Similar projects seek for billions of dollars and still their leaders do not claim anything like an intention to draw the complete brain scheme in three years. That is an obvious nonsense!”
In principle, we could pay no attention to such comments: as soon as the work is done, everybody will see our rightness. But the project is supported by enthusiasts, who would like to know themselves and to explain to others the vision of the project team members and to see how well-grounded their optimistic attitude towards project success is.
We start with the financial requirements of the project. For work to be possible, the following three conditions should be fulfilled:
(1) Availability of a team of 21-24 well-educated people who are passionate about the idea of timely (in three years, not in centuries) brain understanding. The education is meant to be mainly in physics.
(2) To provide the project team members with the financial support for the project duration, from January 01, 2013 through December 31, 2015, in the amount of 60 thousands Russian rubles per month per person.
(3) To provide the team with a space to work, including a room for the weekly Working Sessions of the team.
Definitely, the conditions are reasonable, especially taking into account the project high-gain outcomes. In fact, the resources area fraction of a percent of what Henry Markram’s required budget .
Presently, the movement “Russia 2045” provides both financial and moral support to our project. Two of our younger team members do now get the above-mentioned salaries. The website of the David Marr Brain Reverse Engineering Laboratory has been established and is supported by the Russia 2045, who also pays for our business trips and business meetings. The aim of the present note is to show our methods and ideas to the scientific community and to the interested public to get useful feedback and to evaluate the magnitude of social support for our project. The note consists of three parts: (1) the justification of the project’s goals; (2) the description of current members of the project team; (3) the description of the methods of our work.
1. Brain Reverse Engineering. Why Soon and Why Now
The term Brain Reverse Engineering has been aired in 1970s. However, the computational resources at that time were far below of what is needed to simulate the nervous system and the brain reverse engineering (BRE) was in fact impossible. Today, even compact computing devices can surpass human brain by the total computing power and memory capacity. Meanwhile, there are still
no artificial devices that possess mind. The problem, obviously, lies in the computational algorithms and system architecture. That is what we intend extract from current knowledge of brain.
Our project is not the only one in the world. There are tens of projects with the same final goal. The primary distinction of our project from the other BRE projects is in maximal use of the man-power, of the human intellectual abilities. We are trying to organize coordinated efforts of a relatively small group of professionals to integrate, to synthesize, and sometimes to fill-in the knowledge gaps about the brain in order to understand how the function of understanding (of anything) is implemented in living human brain. We do not know any other BRE project in the world that, like ours, relies more on real human mind than on modern technologies or yet unknown geniuses. Thus, Henry Markram claims that to understand brain one needs billons euros and tens of Albert Einsteins .
We are the first to make an attempt to solve the mind problem with a reasonable budget. Most probably, soon we will not be alone. This anticipation pleases us, as the more groups will adopt our methods the sooner the problem will be solved. That is the answer to the question, why now.
Why quick? It might be explained by the general business principle: as soon as the problem is ripe for its resolution, one should do it immediately. The reasons to hurry are simple: if the solution can be obtained now, then there is no warranty that this possibility will persist later. Who knows, what might happen in future?
2. Who we are
Below follows a short description of members of the existing initiative group of our project. We are six physicists of diverse ages and of a set of scientific backgrounds (listed in the reverse order to the time of joining the project).
1. K.P. Soloviyova. Bachelor of Science, Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology (MIPT). Her bachelor’s graduation project was ‘Mathematical modeling of circadian rhythms’. The theme of her magister project (MIPT, class of 2014) is ‘Attractor models of neural networks’. K.P. Soloviyova is a laureate and (later) organizer of international competitions in physics and other natural sciences.
2. A.N. Zhukov. MS (MIPT). Since September, 2011, a PhD student at Scientific Research Institute for System Analysis, Russian Academy of Sciences (NIISI RAS). The theme of the future PhD thesis is ‘Analysis of algorithms and mechanisms of information processing in cerebellum as one of structural building blocks of an intellectual system’. An estimated time of the PhD thesis defense is 2014.
3. N.V. Dunina-Barkovskaya. MS (MIPT), researcher at Institute of Theoretical and Experimental Physics. She participates in working sessions of the project since October, 2011.
4. I.A. Smirnitskaya. MS (MIPT), Ph.D. (MIPT, 1994). Master’s and Ph.D.’s student of W.L. Dunin-Barkowski. Ph.D. thesis’ title: «Estimates of Probabilistic Parameters of codon transformations in cerebellum». Since 1979 she works in Institute of Higher Nervous Activity and Neurophysiology, RAS (since 2011 – part time), since 2011 – researcher at (NIISI RAS). Her papers are co-authored with A.A. Frolov, W.L. Dunin-Barkowski and others. She participates in the project since June, 2011.
5. V.B. Kotov. MS in physics (Moscow State University). He has works on optical and opto-electronic technologies, on multi-component intellectual systems, in computational neuroscience. He is a senior researcher at NIISI RAS. Kotov’s publications are co-authored with academician A.L. Mikaelyan, W.L. Dunin-Barkowski and others. He participates in the project since February, 2011.
6. W.L. Dunin-Barkowski. MS (MIPT, 1965). He became professionally interested in mechanisms of nervous activity since 1961, while attending bionics seminars of Professor M.A. Aizerman (1913-1992) in USSR Academy of Sciences Institute of Automation and Remote Control. More details on W.L. Dunin-Barkowski’s works and activity is presented at the website.
At the Scientific session of General Assembly of the Russian Academy of Sciences «Brain: basic science and applied problems», in December, 2009 the concluding plenary talk entitled «Mathematical and Informational Aspects of Brain studies» had been given by I.B. Gurevich, Ph.D., and W.L. Dunin-Barkowski, Dr. Sci. . A task of launching in Russia of the full-scale brain modeling projects had been formulated in that talk .
Later, after evaluation of his own work experience and realization of the fact that considerable progress in revealing of principles of neuronal organization has been achieved by several outstanding researchers, who worked actually alone by themselves (I.P. Pavlov, Ramon-i-Cajal, David Marr, John Hopfield), brought W.L. Dunin-Barkowski to the idea of the present project. That is, to the possibility of fast progress in understanding the “mind mysteries” by the work of limited in size but well-coordinated group of researchers, who actually are ready to solve the whole mind problem in a few years. Such an attempt is usually considered to be non-serious as the problem has a reputation to be so grandiose that nobody dares to approach it. Our pioneer group takes the challenge of fast solution of the problem of mind mechanisms only because of a rather unique job experience of the project head and intellectual and educational qualities and informed enthusiasm of the team members.
3. Our methods
The problem of methods of treating the mind problem is in no way trivial. The general principle of handling enterprises of extreme complexity is long known:
«Eyes are scared, but hands are doing the job». The proverb has a simple meaning. If you have to solve a complicated problem with no obvious solution, you should do anything at hand, which seems to be targeted to the goal, and act energetically. If the problem can be solved, it will be done this way. That was the general reasoning behind the choice of the initial work algorithm of our lab. Just the initial one, as we may change it later, if more apt for the project objectives methods will emerge in course of work on project.
The initial work algorithm uses the fact that the number of team members is 21. The teamers are grouped into seven subgroups (Working Groups (WG)) with three members in each WG, for permanent joint work. Further, the whole field of neurosciences (the bulk of theoretical and experimental data on brain) is divided into 56 ‘fragments’, each of which will be reviewed by a single working group for three months. Currently the list of 56 partial problems (PP) looks as shown below.The order of themes is set arbitrary and just reflects the history of composing the list.
1. 1-2 (2) – The Cerebellum
2. 3 (1) – Intracellular Processes in Neurons
3. 4-7 (4) – Cerebral Neocortex
4. 8 (1) – Brain Life Maintenance
5. 9-11 (3) – Hippocampus
6. 12-13 (2) – The Rest of Limbic System
7. 14-15 (2) – Basal Ganglia
8. 16 (1) – Hypothalamus
9. 17-19 (3) – Thalamus
10. 20-21 (2) – Tectum
11. 22-23 (2) – The Pons
12. 24-26 (3) – Respiration and Circulation
13. 27 (1) – Olfaction
14. 28-29 (2) – Hearing
15. 30-33 (4) – Vision
16. 34 (1) – Digestion and Taste
17. 35-37 (3) – Love, etc.
18. 38 (1) – Vagus Nerve
19. 39 (1) – Sympathetic Nervous System
20. 40-41 (2) – Speech
21. 42-44 (3) – Medulla
22. 45-47 (3) – Movements Control and Somatosensory System
23. 48-49 (2) – Spinal Cord
24. 50-52 (3) – Sleep
25. 53-54 (2) – Brain Rhythms
26. 55 (1) – Attractors in Neural Networks
27. 56 (1) – Meta-attractors
Each line contains (1) Theme order number; (2) PP’s order numbers for the theme (number of PPs in parentheses); and (3) Theme title.
Since October, 2011 we have weekly Working Sessions of the project current team, with the discussion of neuroscience news and of the working state of the project. Completion of the first two years stage of the project will provide the team members with their own comprehensive image of the current state of all aspects of brain functioning. Works of the third year of the project will be concentrated on efforts to synthesize the complete scheme of brain operation.
The three-year project term has been selected, first of all, because approximately that time took for David Marr alone to make in 1969-1971 the blueprint of the theory of the three keynote brain structures – the cerebellum, cerebral neocortex and hippocampus. Since that time, the knowledge about brain has grown enormously. So, the problem of complete integration of contemporary knowledge about brain and elaboration of a complete picture of its functioning seems to be more realistic now, than forty years ago.
1. Waldrop M. Brain in a Box. – Nature, 2012, Vol. 482, pp. 456-458.
3. Brain: the basic and applied problems. (Ed. by academician A.I. Grigoriev. Moscow, Nauka Publishers, 2010, pp. 220-223 (in Russian).
The full database should constitute the result of the reverse engineering of all brain functions, presented in the form of the “Instruction to assemble the Artificial Brain”...More
Main distinctions of the proposed project from the other known in the world attempts of the same profile
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The internet-laboratory will present records (publications) of the group of theorist researches, who joined their efforts for collective intellectual works with the goal to understand the mechanisms of operation of human brain in general and in all details, which are necessary for the subsequent artificial re-creation of these mechanisms. The main initial task of the laboratory will be creation of open-access scientific, technological and engineering internet-resource in a form of a specialized database of knowledge on mechanisms of brain work. It is supposed that as a result of the planned work at the end of 2015 the project’s team will elaborate the full detailed description of the mechanisms of human brain. It will be possible to use this description to make (in yrs. 2018-2020) a full scale working analog of the human brain, based on technological (not biological) informational elements and devices. At the present stage the team for the project is under formation. It will include 21 persons of an advanced research level with background in physics and biophysics. The whole work will be divided into overlapping zones of responsibility. All basic elements of the project will be discussed in detail at general sessions of the team and in local group consultations.More
Dunin-BarkowskiDoctor of physics and mathematics, Head of the Department of Neuroinformatics at the Center for Optical Neural Technologies of the Scientific Research Institute for System Analysis of the Russian Academy of Sciences
' If the job is to be taken seriously, we can get a detailed model of a brain prototype within five years or so. And since many research areas concerned with the subject develop in parallel, it may well be that we can achieve these results even faster...'
/ The project stages
Preliminary stage (2011-2012)
The main working instrument of the project at this stage will be the internet-laboratory.
The working stage (2013-2015)
The forming of the program and of the methods of work will proceed in the course of the preliminary stage of the project.