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Boffins urge European Commission to reboot electric brain project

Billion-Euro simulated mind project criticised for narrow thinking

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

More than four hundred scientists have signed an open letter asking the European Commission to rethink the Human Brain Project (HBP), a €1.19b attempt to build a computer capable of simulating the human brain.

The HBP has been pitched as beneficial for neuroscience and computer science. The former discipline gets a whole new instrument with which to work. The latter field gets stimulus to develop all manner of new technologies required to build the HBP. Europe gets funds to develop those technologies, and hopefully a chance to commercialise them.

The letter doesn't object to the computing side of things, but does worry that a recently-released Framework Proposal Agreement for those seeking funding from the project narrows its aims unhelpfully.

The signatories therefore “ … strongly question whether the goals and implementation of the HBP are adequate to form the nucleus of the collaborative effort in Europe that will further our understanding of the brain.” The letter calls for substantial changes to management to ensure the project meets its goals.

If the changes aren't made, the signatory boffins say they won't apply for HBP funding.

The Reg's neuroscience desk is best described as a figment of our imagination, so we lack the knowledge to judge whether a boycott by the signatories would leave the project short of the … erm … brains required to make it a success.

That so many scientists feel the HBP's current structure and direction mean it is unlikely to be more than a thought bubble nonetheless seems cause for concern, if only because the project is publicly-funded. ®

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