The Obama administration wants to jumpstart brain research in an ambitious collaborative enterprise that's already being called the Human Genome Project of Neuroscience. The decade-long endeavor will explore the inner workings of the human mind and work toward charting a map of its activity. According to the NYT, the announcement could come as early as March:
The project... will include federal agencies, private foundations and teams of neuroscientists and nanoscientists in a concerted effort to advance the knowledge of the brain's billions of neurons and gain greater insights into perception, actions and, ultimately, consciousness.
Scientists with the highest hopes for the project also see it as a way to develop the technology essential to understanding diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, as well as to find new therapies for a variety of mental illnesses.
Moreover, the project holds the potential of paving the way for advances in artificial intelligence. [Ed.: Skynet, y'all]
Jokes aside, this is really big news. Researchers involved in planning the project estimate federal funding will be to the tune of more than $300 million dollars a year for the next ten years. It almost goes without saying that pouring more money into brain research would bring a wealth of "novel understanding and therapies for diseases such as schizophrenia and autism," to say nothing of the potential financial yield (the returns on the Human Genome Project have been a staggering 140 to 1, according to Obama's SOTU address.)
But here's what's really exciting: when scientists are given the resources to explore territory as extensive and untrodden as the human mind, it's safe to assume their investigations will yield truly extraordinary findings; the real value, the greatest spoils to be won in an undertaking as ambitious (and, frankly, somewhat nebulous) as "mapping the human brain," are the answers to questions we haven't even thought of yet.
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