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Human Brain Project to be rethought

Europe’s Human Brain Project is being reorganised, which is changing the involvement of the Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne (EFPL) that has served as its base until now.

The European Commission says its outside experts have agreed there must be more integration, better infrastructure and an emphasis on concrete results.

In a blog post on Monday, Thierry Van der Pyl, the commission’s director of “excellence in science”, also said the experts stressed the project will greatly influence how neuroscience research is done in the near future.

To that end, he said, the experts agreed at a three-day meeting in Brussels last week – their first such annual review -- that the decade-long project work will be important in developing brain theories, cognitive architectures and the supporting brain experimental data.

But EPFL’s leadership of the project is to be augmented by a drive “to better align and coordinate scientific and data-related activities with brain modelling and simulations”, he wrote.

In July, more than 200 neuroscientists signed an open letter criticising the $1.6 billion (CHF1.48 billion) attempt to recreate the functioning of the human brain on supercomputers. They said it could waste a huge amount of money and harm neuroscience generally.

‘Natural transition’

The Human Brain Project is largely funded by the European Union, and though Switzerland is not a member the EPFL won the EU’s support for the project in January 2013 with $1.2 billion over ten years.

But the neuroscience researchers said in the letter that they wanted less money spent on efforts to “build” a brain and more invested in existing projects.

The idea behind the EPFL project has been to bundle the work of some 100,000 neuroscientists and more than 100 institutions across Europe much the way physics work is shared at the Geneva-based European Organization for Nuclear Research, known by its French acronym CERN.

Patrick Aebischer, the president of EPFL, acknowledged to newspaper Le Temps on Tuesday that the institute could no longer be regarded as the base for the entire project, but described it as a natural transition.

“As in all major projects -- such as going to the moon – it takes time to put in place the right organisation,” he said. "Certainly we must be restructured, but it will help us.”

swissinfo.ch and agencies


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