The Blue Brain project has been going on for years but I just heard about it. The purpose of this mind-boggling, but now feasible experiment is to use a supercomputer to simulate the brain of a mammal.
The project is in Switzerland, and is a joint venture with IBM. They have already succeeded in replicating a “neocortical column” from a rat brain. That’s a single neural circuit–the building block of a brain, whether rat or human (though a human’s is more complex). When the simulation was completed, this neural circuit began (all on its own) to function just like such a circuit would function in a brain.
Next step: model an entire rat brain. The Blue Brainers estimate this will be completed in two years.
The step after that: download the simulation into a robotic rat and see if it acts like a rat. They are already in discussions with a Japanese robotics manufacturer.
What about modeling a human brain? They’re guessing that’s about ten years away. The zillion dollar question is whether these brain simulations will exhibit consciousness. And then we may join Hamlet and say:
O, that this too too solid flesh would melt,
Thaw and resolve itself into a dew!
Or more accurately, resolve itself into a blue. A blue brain that needs no flesh. Read an excellent article about Blue Brain by an author who knows a lot more about brain science than I do.