Friday, July 24, 2009

Henry Markram and the Blue Brain Project - TEDGlobal 2009 talk

Link here for news of the Artificial Brain talk by Henry Markram at TEDGlobal 2009 in Oxford:

The holy grail for neuroscience is to understand the design of the neocortical column. It will help us understand not just the brain, but perhaps physical reality. Understanding the structures that make it up is extremely difficult, because beyond just cataloging the parts, you have to figure out how they actually work -- and then build realistic digital models.

From the Guardian:

Markram is working to develop a model of the human brain because it is a key step to our understanding of the neo-cortex, and scientists cannot continue doing animal experimentation forever. It is key to understanding diseases and disorders, including Alzheimer's and autism.

99% of what we "see" is actually our brain inferring things about our surroundings, and he believes that a model of the brain will help us understand reality by understanding this fundamental internal reality.

Through intense study of the neo-cortex, not only the billions of neurons but just as importantly the rules of communications and connectivity, they have been able to build a three dimensional model of the neo-cortex. They have coded the rules that neurons use as a basis for communication with each other.

No two neurons are the same. They intersect in a complex network, creating what Markram described as the fabric of the brain. While the neurons are all different, the neurons fit together in a similar pattern in every human brain.

On a small scale, they now have the equations to simulate neurons and the electro-chemical reactions between them. It is a complex computer simulation. That in itself is a complex computer simulation. It is too difficult to simulate the connections between multiple neurons in silicon, Markram said.

To simulate a single neuron takes the computing power equivalent of a laptop. To build even a small model of the brain, they need a lot of laptops, about 10,000. But using an IBM supercomputer, "we can take the magic carpet for a ride".

They are now able to stimulate this simulated brain with images. If they show the brain a rose, what happens? "We can now follow the energy. We saw these ghostly electrical columns in the neo-cortex," Markram wrote.

They still have a lot more to do with these theories, but he [Markram] said,

"It is not impossible to build a brain, and if we succeed, in 10 years we will send a hologram to talk to you".

Mind-bogglingly Useless Research

Comments left on Times Higher Education's article 'Toxic combination' threatens jobs cull , 16 July 2009:

Fred the Shred 16 July, 2009
Yet again the academic community expresses its horror that the University sector should be exposed to the real world. There is nothing wrong with building surpluses, indeed in the longer term these will benefit the academic community.

Surpluses create cash, which in turn is used to fund capital expenditure and keep borrowings down thus giving the sector a lower gearing and allowing more income to be spent on academics producing mind bogglingly useless research rather than going on interest payments.

Cash reserves also generate additional income for an institution through investment income. Kings London's Standard and Poors rating will have been decided after close scrutiny of their current and future plans. It is possible that King's quite realistic approach to the issues facing them contributed to the upgrade ( which will have mightily pissed off another institution by the way). How much is it going to take for the academic community to realise that they don't live in the protected cocoons of ivory towersand haven't done for the last 30 years( since the days of the blessed Margaret). I worked in the sector for 25 plus years and now work in the real world. It's far more stressful, but it's fun, particularly dealing with people who don't have over inflated opinions of themselves. We recently had to ask staff to take a pay cut. It was purely voluntary but 95% took it up. I understsnd UCU are still insisting on a pay rise this year. Get Real.

Jonathan 16 July, 2009
Fred the shred: you might have some pertinent points that present an interesting counterargument. The problem is you wrap in in such condescending and, quite frankly, insulting language that I can only guess your "25 plus years" in the sector did not involve teaching diplomacy. If you want to make a point, make it reasonably. Otherwise, give it a rest.

Fred the Shred 16 July, 2009
Jonathan, presumably you mean the type of diplomacy used by academics when a manager, quite reasonably, questions what they are doing. I spent an awful long time trying to be diplomatic with academics. If you think I am being insulting I suspect you are being a touch sensitive.

Don't feed trolls 16 July, 2009
Fred the Shred is a dreary troll spouting the tedious line that HE is somehow "not the real world". I particulrly enjoyed the inept mixed metaphor of "protected cocoons of ivory towers"! The private sector - those splendid and self-deprecating chaps that brought us the credit crunch? - are very welcome to his second-rate intellect (and third-rate rhetorical skills).

Fred the Shred 16 July, 2009
Don't feed trolls. QED.

Don't feed trolls 16 July, 2009
Surprised old Fred has the time to reply in that "fun" Real World job of his. In my cocoon of ivory towers, I. on the other other hand, have the leisure to reply (in between working on mind-boggling pointless research of course).


Article and more comments here:

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Bletchley Park Annual Enigma Reunion

From Bletchley Park's Events page:

Annual Enigma Reunion (with a difference) -
5 Sep 2009 to 6 Sep 2009

The 70th anniversary of the arrival of Alan Turing & Gordon Welchman at Bletchley Park, including the annual reunion of Bletchley Park Veterans.

Here is an opportunity for you to attend the 2009 Enigma Weekend at Bletchley Park.

The event will be held during the weekend of the 5th & 6th September 2009.

As a principal feature of this year’s event there will be a display of Enigma and other cipher machines from private and museum collections throughout Europe and elsewhere – some rare and unusual variants will be on public display. The early 20th century through the cold war years will be represented. Many well known experts, specialists and collectors from the cipher-machine world have already expressed their intent to be here with their machines on display.

There will be guest speakers giving talks, which will be taking place over the two days of the event. So why not come along and see these unique machines and attend one of the talks.

In addition all of the regular, fascinating exhibits at BP will be open to visitors. These include the rebuilds of Colossus and the Bombe, Jack Darrah’s unique collection of Churchillian memorabilia and Block B museum. Our popular guided tours are available to visitors.

Watch the skies above Bletchley Park come alive with a Battle of Britain Memorial Flypast of a Lancaster.
(Saturday 5th September only).

• Over 70 cipher machines on display
• Topical Talks on both days
• Meet Collectors from around the world
• See many rare machines
• All in the historic beautiful setting of Bletchley Park

More information on Bletchley Park here: