The Human Brain Project, with its billion-dollar plan to recreate the human mind inside a supercomputer, sounds like a science fiction nightmare. But those involved hope their ambitious goal of simulating the tangle of neurons and synapses that power our thought processes could offer solutions to tackling conditions such as depression, Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s. The Human Brain venture is the next step in a long-running program that has already succeeded in using computers to create a virtual replica of part of a rat’s neocortex — a section of the brain believed to control higher functions such as conscious thought, movement and reasoning. If the team’s current bid for $1.3 billion of European Commission funding over the next 10 years is successful, the prediction is that neuroscientists are a decade away from producing a synthetic mind that could, in theory, talk and interact in the same way humans do. Sean Hill, a senior computational neuroscientist on the project, said, “This is a tool for research, not a giant simulated brain that is going to rule the world. Right now, we’re in a crisis in neuroscience. There’s a lot of wonderful data being gathered but we don’t have a place where we can put those experimental results together and understand their implications.”

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