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Scientists build largest ever computerized brain

Still as dumb as a bag of hammers

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Canadian scientists have built a functioning computer simulation of the human brain, dubbed Spaun, that's able to recognize characters and perform simple actions.

The team at the University of Waterloo's Centre for Theoretical Neuroscience built the brain from 2.5 million computer-simulated neurons, compared to the average human, who has 80-100 billion.

The simulated neurons are modeled to behave as closely to human neurons as possible, and can be set up with specific algorithms to mimic different sections of the human brain.

The Spaun simulation also includes a simulated arm for movement and an eye capable of viewing a 28-by-28-pixel image. The brain can carry out eight functions, from drawing a symbol to more complex tasks such as ordering data, and the team is able to program in long and short-term memory functions.

"This is nothing like as quick as the human brain," Terrence Stewart, post-doctoral research associate on the project, told The Register. "It's got to be speeded up a massive amount before it even comes close – right now the system takes two and a half hours for the equivalent of a few second's thought."

No HAL in the cards just yet, then, in fact it makes Honey Boo-Boo look like Einstein, but the Spaun model is proving very useful at modeling areas of the brain for study. One of the neuron clusters developed covers the part of the brain most affected by Parkinson's Disease, and other applications are possible to map out cognition.

So far the model code is reaching the limits of what can be done, since the team is approaching the limits to how far you can scale the Java software (which is available here). But as the system improves, Spaun could help find new ways of working out just what is going on in those noggins of ours.

The full details have now been published in the journal Science. ®

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