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Experts Boycott Computer Brain Project

Jul 07, 2014 01:57 PM EDT
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Hundreds of experts in the neuroscience field are threatening to have their labs and respective facilities boycott Europe's Human Brain Project (HBP) on the grounds that the 10-year, $1.6 billion initiative is not being properly managed.

In an open letter to the European Commission, 201 scientists - as of 12 p.m. EST - have pledged not to apply for HBP partnering projects, explaining that the project's overarching aim is too focused, poorly managed and will potentially fail in its goals despite a massive amount of funding.

"We wish to express the view that the HBP is not on course and that the European Commission must take a very careful look at both the science and the management of the HBP before it is renewed," the letter says. "We 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 researchers backing this letter acknowledge that both the United States' 12-year BRAIN initiative and the European Commission's HBP "have the noble goal of making major advances in our understanding of both normal and pathological brain function."

However, unlike BRAIN, which focuses on funding and gathering a wide range of ongoing research, the HBP has a much more specific goal in mind - to recreate the human brain on a system of specially designed supercomputers.

"Collaborate, collaborate, collaborate. This is our opportunity," said Karlheinz Meier, co-director of the HBP.

According to Meier and the HBP website, the project aims to bring advances in neurology, computer sciences and information and communications technology (ICT) all under one roof, expediting a process to advance our understanding of the human brain and simulated intelligence that would take years on its own.

However, according to the protesting researchers, the heavily funded project is leaving far too many promising research initiatives at the door.

Last month alone, a Framework Proposal Agreement of the HBP removed an entire neuroscience subproject  - and its associated 18 research laboratories - from the project so funds could be reallocated towards more ITC work.

Many experts say this heavy focus on computation advances is premature, and ignores the fact that very little is understood about the real brain.

According to the open letter, many laboratories initially refused to join the project because of this narrow approach, "leading to a significant risk that it would fail to meet its goals."

European Union representatives have called for patience in the wake of this letter, and for all parties in the dispute "to work together" to reach a compromise.

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