Claims by an IBM researcher that he and other scientists were able to simulate a cat's brain using a new algorithm running on an IBM supercomputer are being disputed. Henry Markram, heading up another project called Blue Brain, calls the claims by IBM scientist Dharmendra Modha a scam and a hoax and argues that what Modha's group accomplished only proved that it had access to a massive supercomputer.
Not everyone is impressed by IBM
researchers' claim that they are on track to develop a supercomputer that can
simulate the human brain.
At the Supercomputing show Nov. 18, IBM
scientists said they had reached two milestones by simulating
a brain similar to that of a cat.
In their presentation, the researchers
also said they had developed an algorithm that makes use of IBM's
Blue Gene supercomputer to map connections between cortical and subcortical
areas in the human brain.
However, a researcher with another, similar project called the presentation
a "scam," a "hoax" and a "PR stunt."
In a letter
to IBM CTO Bernard Meyerson,
Henry Markram, the lead on the Ecole
Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne's Blue
project, said the presentation at Supercomputing by Dharmendra Modha,
manager of cognitive computing at IBM Research-Almaden, was a mass deception played
upon the public, adding that the research did not support Modha's findings.
"This is light years away from a cat brain, not even close to an ant's
brain in complexity," Markram said in his Nov. 23 letter. "It is
highly unethical of Modha to mislead the public in making people believe they
have actually simulated a cat's brain. Absolutely shocking."
Modha's project includes not only IBM
scientists, but also researchers from Stanford, the University
of Wisconsin, Cornell, Columbia
Center and the University
The scientists' work is part of a DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects
Agency) initiative called SYNAPSE (Systems of Neuromorphic Adaptive Plastic
Scalable Electronics). For the first phase of the project, the researchers
built a cortical simulator that was run on IBM's
Dawn Blue Gene/P supercomputer at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.
The algorithm, called BlueMatter, when combined with the cortical simulator,
lets scientists experiment with mathematical hypotheses about how brain
structure affects function, according to the researchers.
Markram's Blue Brain project also aims to build a synthetic brain through
reverse-engineering a mammal's brain and also uses an IBM
Blue Gene/L computer. Markram is director of the EPFL's Brain Mind Institute,
which founded the project.
In his letter to Meyerson, Markram dismissed Modha's contentions, saying his
project and others could easily do the same work but would not call it a
simulation of a cat's brain.
"It is really no big deal to simulate a billion points interacting if
you have a big enough computer," Markram wrote. "The only step here
is that they have at their disposal a big computer. For a grown up 'researcher'
to get excited because one can simulate billions of points interacting is
Markram also referred to what appears to be an earlier point of contention,
saying Modha previously had erroneously claimed to have simulated a mouse's
He said it was "shocking" that IBM
and DARPA had supported Modha's claims at the Supercomputing show, and that it
was surprising that the research was awarded the Gordon Bell Prize at the
"I never realized that such trivial and unethical behavior would
actually be rewarded," Markram wrote.