What is Obama’s brain initiative about?

I have been in Dallas Texas all week at the International Joint Conference on Neural Networks. A major player in President Obama’s Brain Initiative Project gave at talk followed by a Q & A session. So what is this Brain Initiative all about?

Back in April President Obama announced a 100 million dollar funded project in studying the brain, with an extra 90 million a year from private investors. It all started when sometime before a group of nano technologists met up with a group of neuroscientists. After a few days presenting their work to each other, the a nano technologist asked what the neuroscientist would most like to be able to do. The reply was: we would like to be able to record from every neuron in the brain at once. The response from the nano guys was:we can help you with that.


Recording from neurons is presently an invasive process of sticking probes into the brain. Back in the day we could only record from one neuron at a time. Now we can record 100-200 simultaneously. There are about 80 billion neurons in the brain. Now there are about 100 thousand neurons in a cortical column. If we want to record from 10 columns thats a million neurons. Now we presently can’t record all the neurons in a column at once because we cant fit that many probes in, there just isn’t enough space. If you use Moores Law to see how the technological growth in our ability record from numerous neurons has advanced and predict into the future, then we will be able to record a million neurons by the year 2100. This is far too long to wait.

The Brain Initiative attempts to develop technologies that will enable us to record from a million neurons within 10-15 years. Not only does it hope to record non intrusively but also aims at being able to stimulate these neurons, and as well as that come up with analysis techniques to understand the complex data.


This work will not just advance technology that can also be applied in other areas, but it will help us understand the brain so as to develop AI and cure mental diseases.


Present Obama was given a selection of projects to choose to fund and made the choice himself to invest in brain research. A very smart man.


  1. I am really on shaky ground here. Are the different frequencies transmitting data like DSL or radio waves? In other words, is the actual data confined to physical neuronal pathways or is it also transmitted across the network wirelessly?
    Is our ability to “eavesdrop” the data via eeg etc. using original design features or the result of a simple lack of insulation of the transmission fibers?
    Is there analogous technology available that would allow us to acquire and interpret data flowing through a wired or optical network?
    Bottom line – is our neural net wired, wireless, or a combination?

    PS Congratulations on your PhD

    1. Chemicals with different positive or negative electrical charges pass through a wired network. The electromagnetic charges can also be picked up using eeg etc but they are just the general charge behaviour of a particlar area nothing acurate. Much like you can pick up the magnetism around electrical appliances but not accurately enough to know what the appliance is doing internally.

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