Reverse Engineering the Mind with Brain Corp. CEO Eugene Izhikevich

The brain initiative that President Obama unfurled last week calls for spending over $100 million a year on neuroscience research over the next decade, including the development of innovative neurotechnologies to gain new insights into the way the brain works.

As the Salk Institute neuroscientist Terrence Sejnowski put it, “This is the start of the million neuron march”—an ambitious quest to accomplish for the central nervous system what the $3 billion Human Genome Project has done for our understanding of genetics.

Part of what’s known as the Brain Research Through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative already is underway in San Diego, in what might be described as the ultimate hack: Reverse engineering the human brain to create a duplicate system that can be implemented using semiconductors and software.

Brain Corp. CEO Eugene Izhikevich

Eugene Izhikevich (and Kate)

Eugene Izhikevich has been at the forefront of this emerging field for more than a decade. A computational neuroscientist, Izhikevich moved to San Diego in 2000 when he began a fellowship in theoretical neurobiology at The Neurosciences Institute in La Jolla. In 2009, he founded Brain Corp., a startup backed by Qualcomm Ventures. Izhikevich serves as the CEO and chairman of Brain Corp., which has been incubating at the San Diego headquarters of Quaclomm (NASDAQ: QCOM), the world’s largest wireless chipmaker.

The first research breakthrough came in 2003, when Izhikevich published an algorithm to describe the pulsed signal of “spiking” neurons in the brain. With this, he created a computer model in 2005 that simulates the signaling activity of 100 billion neurons and a quadrillion synapses, which he says is roughly equivalent to the size of the entire human brain.

Izhikevich says the Obama administration’s BRAIN initiative has three thrusts: 1) recording the brain’s activity to a level of detail that was not previously possible; 2) stimulating the brain in controllable ways to identify the structure and function of different regions; and 3) developing computer systems that model the biological processes of the brain.

In an e-mail, he writes, “During my years at the … Next Page »

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Bruce V. Bigelow was the editor of Xconomy San Diego from 2008 to 2018. Read more about his life and work here. Follow @bvbigelow

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2 responses to “Reverse Engineering the Mind with Brain Corp. CEO Eugene Izhikevich”

  1. As a physician and neuroscientist, I am glad to see a renewed interest in the brain. However, this sounds all too familiar, assuming my memory is working correctly, to the Decade of the Brain push back in the 1990’s by former President George HW Bush. The 1990’s was an exciting time to be conducting brain research and we were all very proud of ourselves. However, despite the tremendous strides forward that were made during this time we were still far from understanding how the “normal’ brain functions and even farther from being able to layer a disease on top of the normal functioning to try and understand where and how to intervene in the various disease processes affecting the brain. This is evidenced by the high attrition rates of CNS drug discovery and development programs over the past 2 decades, and the dropping of neuroscience programs from the R&D portfolios of many pharmaceutical firms. I hope this new initiative has more substance and planning associated with it so that the public can derive some tangible benefits from this important endeavor.

  2. I really like all the Izhikevich maths and his book weighs down my bag a lot.

    But he goes too far……No matter how huge the model, there is no involvement of mind in these mathematical constructs. What is being created is a description of a brain. Not a brain. The presupposed ‘elephant in the room’ is that computing a model of a brain is in all respects (first-person included) identical to the natural original. This is nonsense. Unsubstantiated, unaddressed, unrecognised presupposition. If this were the case, then a computed model of combustion (brain) would burn (be a brain).

    Maybe have a look at this:

    The first true artificial mind will have no computing in it whatever. Just like the first artificial flight had no computing in it.

    This is a 60 year old fallacy that has to stop. Sooner rather than later!