The Obama administration has officially announced a long-running research project aimed at mapping the human brain. The Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative will launch with around $100 million of initial funding in 2014, supported by the National Institutes of Health, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, and National Science Foundation. Broadly, it's meant to help develop new technologies that will let researchers explore how brain cells interact, potentially leading to better treatment for diseases like Alzheimer's and epilepsy. That's far in the future, however: for now, a group of NIH scientists has been tasked with coming up with goals and cost estimates, and several private research organizations have pledged money to the project over the next ten years.
As part of the project, researchers will study the ethical implications of potential breakthroughs
In a release today, the White House detailed advancements that each agency could help make. DARPA will attempt to develop tools to record and analyze brain functions, aiming to treat soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress or brain injuries. The NSF, meanwhile, will develop tiny probes to sense how neural networks operate, as well as data processing tools capable of dealing with the vast amount of information involved. Although the primary goal of the project is advancing our understanding of neuroscience, it will also include studies of the ethical, legal, and sociological impact of potential breakthroughs. President Obama will order the Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues to examine the BRAIN Initiative's implications, while DARPA plans to conduct its own work on the subject.
President Obama emphasized the importance of scientific research and development during his 2013 State of the Union address, and details of the brain mapping project were revealed not long after. The US is also not the only country putting its money behind figuring out how the brain works. Earlier this year, the European Commission chose the Human Brain Project as one of its Future and Emerging Technology flagships, granting an initial $72 million to researchers attempting to create a detailed model of the brain to help treat diseases and spur new models for computing.