An adult brain contains about 86 billion neurons and even more supercomputing power to closely monitor the entire human brain.
All of these neurons have trillions of synapses — or connection points — that make up the circuitry the brain uses to control everything we do, from thinking to breathing to walking. And scientists at the Human Brain Project are trying to build new computing tools that can magnify each of these synapses, looking inside cells and zooming out to focus on entire regions of the brain at once.
Mapping the human brain at the cellular level would require several petabytes of data, researchers at the Human Brain Project report in the journal Science. If you have an old smartphone or tablet with 32 GB of storage, you need more than 31,000 of them to get a single petabyte of storage.
Using an electron microscope to image the entire brain would require more than an exabyte of data, the scientists point out. That’s more than a million petabytes.
Giacomo Indiveri, PhD, a professor of neuroinformatics at the University of Zurich in Switzerland, says we need to fundamentally change the way we build computers. In his keynote speech at the Human Brain Project Summit in October, he warned that by 2025 we will be using computers for 20% of all the world’s electricity.
To overcome the computational challenges posed by the quest to map every part of the human brain, researchers are working to produce the first two exascale supercomputers within the next 5 years. When complete, these machines will provide brain researchers with supercomputers powerful enough to study the human brain in all its complexities.