More on the Obama administration’s brain-mapping initiative


President Obama on Tuesday will announce a broad new research initiative, starting with $100 million in 2014, to invent and refine new technologies to understand the human brain, senior administration officials said Monday.

A senior administration scientist compared the new initiative to the Human Genome Project, in that it is directed at a problem that has seemed insoluble up to now: the recording and mapping of brain circuits in action in an effort to “show how millions of brain cells interact.”

It is different, however, in that it has, as yet, no clearly defined goals or endpoint. Coming up with those goals will be up to the scientists involved and may take more than year. …

As part of the initiative, the president will require a study of the ethical implications of these sorts of advances in neuroscience.

While news of the announcement has been greeted with enthusiasm by many researchers in fields as diverse as neuroscience, nanotechnology and computer science, there are skeptics.

“The underlying assumptions about ‘mapping the entire brain’ are very controversial,” said Donald Stein, a neuroscientist at Emory University in Atlanta. He said changes in brain chemistry were “not likely to be able to be imaged by the current technologies that these people are proposing.”

Emphasizing the development of technologies first, he said, is not a good approach. “I think the monies could be better spent by first figuring out what needs to be measured and then figuring out the most appropriate means to measure them.” he said. “In my mind, the technology ought to follow the concepts rather than the other way around.”

Sounds like an issue that philosophers should be funded to think about!

UPDATE: Here is an official press release.

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