The Decade of the Mind (DOM) initiative was created in 2007 at George Mason University's Krasnow Institute for Advanced Study by an internationally-respected consortium of scientists. These scientists want to convince the US government to spend 4 billion dollars over a 10 year period with the objective of advancing our understanding of the human brain. Since the original announcement of the initiative, they've held two conferences a year to try to further this agenda. This year's installment took place in early January, in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
"The money is in line with the Human Genome Project (technically not quite, HGP was budgeted at 3 billion and cost 2.7 when all was said and done)," said Dr. James Olds, director of the Krasnow Institute. "And the time to spend it is now. The brain is 'what's next.' Neuroscience is finally ready for its Einstein to appear. We're primed for our great leap forward."
Olds said as much at DOM IV: Reverse Engineering the Brain: Sowing the Seeds for Technological Innovation.
Among other topics covered, there was much focus on ensuring that this great leap forward is clearly mapped out. To that end, the DOM initiative has laid out three very clear goals for success:
The first is to make a quantifiable improvement in public health—no small measure, as brain-related diseases and injuries cost the US about 600 billion dollars yearly. "Basically," says Olds, "we want to help Parkinson's and Alzheimer's turn the same corner that AIDs turned—diseases you can live with that aren't a death sentence."
Second, to make a definable contribution to the US economy measured in new jobs, new intellectual property and new companies resulting from the technology transfer (from that new intellectual property).
The third goal is to make a marked improvement in K-20 (that's kindergarten through college) educational performance, including everything from better test scores to more minorities pursuing jobs in science and technology.
To make all of this happen, DOM is hoping funding for these initiatives will be part of the CY 2010 budget, and has created a four-pronged approach for divvying up that 4 billion dollars.
In keeping with their goals, the first of those prongs is to "heal and protect the brain." But to make that possible, it's also necessary to "understand the brain" —an understated way of saying that scientists want to know how the mind emerges from the activity of the brain (essentially how the hardware of gray matter produces the software of consciousness and memory and such)—which further requires us to "model the brain" (exactly as it sounds, using both analytical and computational models of the brain to test out our hardware/software hypothesis). The final goal, the nexus of all of this other work, is to "enrich the brain"—with heavy emphasis here on improving educational outcomes.
While earlier conferences, like DOM III: Emergence of the Mind, held last April in Des Moines, Iowa, have covered a series of through-the-looking glass future-forward topics, DOM IV was instead a very high-level state of the union address for neuroscience, summarizing where the field, as a whole, currently stands.
In keeping with this approach, topics ranged from small (such as neuronal connection), to large (consciousness research). Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Kevin Moses spoke on reverse engineering the fruit fly brain, while Stanford University's Jay McClelland discussed the brain's basis for memory. The corporate sector made an appearance via Rick Stephens, the director of human resources for the Boeing Corporation, who covered America's science-based educational challenges (we're only producing 60,000 engineers a year—which, Stephens feels, must change if America is really going to reboot its economy and continue to lead the world in scientific research).
One of the final talks, Neurorobotics and Modeling Cognitive Function, given by University of California, Irvine cognitive neuroscientist Jeffery Krichmar, nicely summarized the challenges ahead. Neurorobotics is one of the more ambitious arms of this movement, technically encompassing the attempt to build robots with embodied autonomous nervous systems, reaching beyond the computer simulation approach favored by the Artificial Intelligence groups.
Krichnar is now working with robots with thousands of neurons and millions of synapses that, as he says, "are just about at the edge of the amount of complexity found in real brains." It's a daunting enough task that there are only five different groups of scientists worldwide pursuing this approach. But if DOM gets the cash, Krichnar hopes this will change. With respect to the cash itself, all Olds is willing to say is "the DOM steering committee is in direct contact with the Obama team. The new administration is in possession of the initiative."
One thing is for certain: with the nation still reeling from nearly a decade of heavily politicized and seriously under-funded research, if the Obama Administration is determined to help the United States to regain its lead in the scientific world while jump-starting the economy, funding for DOM would go a long way toward making that happen.
I read an Interesting Article from the Memory Hacker here that he can actually record, and execute signals given from the brain. If these signals could be engineered through trial and error onto a very large hard drive we could not only take a step forward in neurological science but also in cybernetic sciences.
Basically have electrodes and wires tapping directly into the human mind, to record a persons thoughts, visual perception, auditory, and physical sensory; Then replay these back into the mind and you get a person living the same moment they did in the recording, over and over. A disturbing thought if used in mental arrest, I believe a form of torture. However if this knowledge, and understanding much could benefit human health and technology.
This could even disprove some mental health problems isolating hallucination and understanding what a person is experiencing may actually be happening and goes even deeper into mental evolution of new senses that may exist.
Either way, Fantastic news that money earned hard is being used for the greater good of man. Investing in Technology is a top priority.
~ You fall somewhere in the Balanced Frequency of Nature. Someone Along the Infinite Spectrum of Life.
My interest is in creating a reliable lie detector in order to allow criminal defendants who have no unequivocal physical evidence to present in their own defense the possibility of bolstering their own testimony with proof that their mind is functioning in a truthful way when they talk about an incident. Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) might eventually be such a way--see noliemri.com for details on what the people there claim about their progress.
Also on 60 Minutes last week there was a report on fMRI suggesting that some "mind reading" is already possible. The big handicap here is that we don't have a theory as to how the mind works. It cannot be operating like a digital computer operates because neuronal signaling is much too slow to do the computations that our brain does effortlessly, such as those needed to allow us to walk upright. Therefore, some type of analog computing is going on in which the brain simultaneously somehow "feels" the weight of a whole lot of memories and somehow ranks the significance of each before we shake the hand of someone we have the nagging feeling we should know but we can't say their name.
I might think we are already constantly upgrading our genetics through everyday life experience whether its physical intake of nutrients, or mental challenges of the day. Its going to be recorded. Either to the Stem Cell, or sperm and Egg cells. Which would make sense how a person can be an expert at something, and then the learning comes easily to the child; without guidance.
Point being, If we are constantly upgrading, then we can spontaneously access the information at any given point. No matter how slow a chemical signal may seem, its quite possible that its as advanced as any program to traffic splits of information in and out of processing. That much data being encoded and decrypted and understood could really be pretty fast.
The Mind will never truly be exploited, because its always getting more and more complex. You think out prolonged exposure to all these chemicals, and amounts of them would not have an impact on our every day lives? Then birth is given to super human capabilities, or at least what we see as super human, that is until their genes are mixed with the rest of the worlds. Heres something, If all the humans on the earth have mated with each other, eventually "Races" of today might not exist. Everyone would be Grey, Brilliant beings. How do you think the Mind will work then? That is far to complex to fathom an understanding of that mindset.