Intelligent Design

Reverse-engineer the brain – NAE’s grand challenge

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One of the grand engineering challenges issued by The National Academy of Engineering is to Reverse-engineer the brain.
If the NAE considers it possible to Reverse-engineer the brain, does not that imply that the brain may have been engineered in the first place? i.e., as in designed by an intelligent agent? As you read through these materials, compare the close parallels with engineering design methods and what researchers are discovering about the brain, (compared to chance processes.) (Hmm. Is that why brain neurons were used for The Design of Life cover!) Perhaps we can see productive reverse engineering research supported by grants from the National Academy of Engineering. with true scientific freedom to pursue where the data leads.

Reverse-engineer the brain
Why should you reverse-engineer the brain?

The intersection of engineering and neuroscience promises great advances in health care, manufacturing, and communication.
. . . the secrets about how living brains work may offer the best guide to engineering the artificial variety. Discovering those secrets by reverse-engineering the brain promises enormous opportunities for reproducing intelligence the way assembly lines spit out cars or computers. . . .

Advances gained from studying the brain may in return pay dividends for the brain itself. Understanding its methods will enable engineers to simulate its activities, leading to deeper insights about how and why the brain works and fails.. . .

Much of this power to simulate reality effectively will come from increased computing capability rooted in the reverse-engineering of the brain. Learning from how the brain itself learns, researchers will likely improve knowledge of how to design computing devices that process multiple streams of information in parallel, rather than the one-step-at-a-time approach of the basic PC. Another feature of real brains is the vast connectivity of nerve cells, the biological equivalent of computer signaling switches. While nerve cells typically form tens of thousands of connections with their neighbors, traditional computer switches typically possess only two or three. . . .

What are the applications for this information?

Already, some applications using artificial intelligence have benefited from simulations based on brain reverse-engineering. . . . With knowledge of the proper signaling patterns in healthy brains, engineers have begun to design computer chips that mimic the brain’s own communication skills.. . .
Even more ambitious programs are underway for systems to control artificial limbs. Engineers envision computerized implants capable of receiving the signals from thousands of the brain’s nerve cells and then wirelessly transmitting that information to an interface device that would decode the brain’s intentions. The interface could then send signals to an artificial limb, or even directly to nerves and muscles, giving directions for implementing the desired movements.. . .

What is needed to reverse-engineer the brain?

The progress so far is impressive. But to fully realize the brain’s potential to teach us how to make machines learn and think, further advances are needed in the technology for understanding the brain in the first place. Modern noninvasive methods for simultaneously measuring the activity of many brain cells have provided a major boost in that direction, but details of the brain’s secret communication code remain to be deciphered. Nerve cells communicate by firing electrical pulses that release small molecules called neurotransmitters, chemical messengers that hop from one nerve cell to a neighbor, inducing the neighbor to fire a signal of its own (or, in some cases, inhibiting the neighbor from sending signals). Because each nerve cell receives messages from tens of thousands of others, and circuits of nerve cells link up in complex networks, it is extremely difficult to completely trace the signaling pathways. . . .

Furthermore, the code itself is complex — nerve cells fire at different rates, depending on the sum of incoming messages. Sometimes the signaling is generated in rapid-fire bursts; sometimes it is more leisurely. And much of mental function seems based on the firing of multiple nerve cells around the brain in synchrony. Teasing out and analyzing all the complexities of nerve cell signals, their dynamics, pathways, and feedback loops, presents a major challenge. . . .

See also:
Hapgood, Fred Reverse-Engineering the Brain,

. . .neuro-science has gotten much more sophisticated in its understanding of how the brain works. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the 37 labs of MIT’s BCS Complex. Groups here are charting the neural pathways of most of the higher cognitive functions (and their disorders), including learning, memory, the organization of complex sequential behaviors, the formation and storage of habits, mental imagery, number management and control, goal definition and planning, the processing of concepts and beliefs, and the ability to understand what others are thinking. . . .

Reverse Engineering the Brain by Steven Novella, NeuroLogica Blog

Reverse-engineering the brain for better computers, Clive Maxfield, EE-Times

Researchers at the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) are using Star-P software from Interactive Supercomputing (ISC) to reverse-engineer brain neurons in a quest to build better computers.
A team within UTSA’s biology department is taking advantage of powerful parallel computers to run biologically-realistic simulations of molecular diffusion in neurons. By understanding how neurons process chemical signals when a person learns and remembers information, researchers believe they can create more reliable computers that employ stochastic computing components.

Decade of Reverse Engineering the Brain at

We are witnessing a renaissance in brain science and technology. Science is examining the brain in ever increasing detail to discern important components of brain structure and function, all of it leading to a reverse engineering of the brain. Within the last year alone, two websites devoted to detailed brain mapping have emerged, and the Allen Mouse In Situs. On, visitors may explore high resolution images of whole human and primate brains, seeing every neuron and every neuron process in vivid detail. Offering a different view of things, the Allen Mouse In Situs is aiming to have online maps of mRNA distribution for all 20,000 or so genes in the mouse brain completed within the next year; they are currently at 6,000. We are now at a unique point in history where the brain is no longer viewed as a ‘black box’, but now, anyone with an internet connection can view every single detail of brain structure online. We are post-‘Decade of the Brain’. We are entering the ‘Decade of Reverse Engineering the Brain’.


Reverse Engineering the Brain, Lloyd Watts, Ph.D. Interval Research

I am working on literally reverse-engineering the brain, beginning with the auditory pathway. I will show real-time demonstrations (movies) of the various representations of speech and music that are computed in the cochlea, cochlear nucleus, superior olive, and inferior colliculus, synchronized with the input sounds.

For further articles and web sites see:
”Reverse Engineering the Brain” Google Scholar

Reverse Engineering the Brain Google search

One Reply to “Reverse-engineer the brain – NAE’s grand challenge

  1. 1
    Mapou says:

    Nice post. Here are a few things to consider. The connectivity of the human brain, in addition to being astronomical, is highly dependent on sensory and effectory modalities. Knowing how all the neurons in the brain are connected without knowing the exact provenance of sensory signals and the exact destination of motor signals will not do much good. The connectivity of the brain is also highly dependent on the owner’s prior experiences and interactions with his/her environment. Knowing which neuron is connected to what does not explain how the connections were made in the first place.

    But, in my admittedly Christian opinion, it gets worse than that, much worse. The human brain, unlike the brains of animals (I’m sure I’ll get a lot of flack for this), was designed and engineered to work with a spirit. The human brain is able to establish near-instantaneous links between highly disparate and distant memory nodes instantly, even though it lacks the random memory access that computers have. So, unless you can interface your computer simulation of a reversed engineered brain (assuming you even got to that point) with a compatible spirit, you’re SOL. Sorry. Alternatively, you would need to simulate, at least partially, the actions of the spirit.

    The point I’m getting at is that attempting to reverse-engineer the brain, while being worthwhile to an extent, is like emptying the ocean with a pail. In my opinion, unless the brain’s original designer/engineer left us the blueprints and/or the principles of the brain’s organization and operation, we’ll be at it for 100,000 years at the very least.

    Note that I am not trying to discourage any AI researcher from conducting brain research. Having said that, I will go out on a limb and claim that the brain’s designer may have done just that (left us the principles of how the brain works, that is). We’re just looking in all the wrong places.

    In conclusion, I got a much more modest suggestion for the NAE. Why not reverse-engineer the brain of a honeybee instead? It only has about a million neurons and a bee’s behavior is sophisticated enough to give us a lot of valuable insights into brain operation in general. We could conceivably create a virtual bee’s universe (with nectar sources and a hive) and conduct some neat experiments. Just dreaming.

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