‘Reverse engineering’ the brain to demystify it

June 14th, 2008 - 2:17 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, June 14 (IANS) Researchers led by an Indian American are “reverse engineering” the brain to design the first working model of the complex interplay between the mind and body. For example, when you puick up an ice-cold drink out of the fridge this summer, how do your brain, eyes and hands interact?

“It is still a mystery, really,” said University of British Columbia computer scientist Dinesh Pai. “No one has ever completely mapped out the processes at the level of specific neurons, muscles and tendons.”

Pai is part of a team leading an international initiative to do just that.

“Essentially, we are reverse engineering the brain to produce the first working computational model of the complex interplay between our minds and our bodies.”

The project could produce great leaps forward in many areas, including medicine, industry and robotics. Although the project is just ramping up, the team’s mapping and modelling expedition is already producing some of the world’s most realistic computer simulations of the human body.

“Our research is really guided by a desire to determine and model exactly what is happening under our skin, first and foremost,” said Pai, who recently received $500,000 from UBC’s Peter Wall Institute for the project.

“There will be many exciting outcomes from this project, but it really falls under the category of pure research.

“Current robots have as much in common with human movements as helicopters do with seagulls,” Pai added. “The challenges are similar, but they use completely different solutions.

“We are in uncharted territory, in terms of computing,” said Pai. “It’s not like you can find software like this at your local Future Shop or Best Buy. So we have been creating our own as we go along.”

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