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MIT Crowdsources and Gamifies Brain Analysis

Soulskill posted more than 2 years ago | from the collect-12-brains-and-return-to-MIT-questgiver dept.

Science 38

MrSeb writes "There are around 100 billion neurons in a human brain, forming up to 100 trillion synaptic interconnections. Neuroscientists believe that these synapses are the key to almost every one of your unique, identifiable features: Memories, mental disorders, and even your personality are encoded in the wiring of your brain. Understandably, neuroscientists really want to investigate these neurons and synapses to work out how they play such a vital role in our human makeup. Unfortunately, these 100 trillion connections are crammed into a two-pound bag of soggy flesh, making analysis rather hard. Starting small and working its way up, MIT today launched Eyewire, a crowdsourced 'game' that tasks users with wiring up the neurons in a mouse's retina. A future stage of the game will get users to find the synapses, too."

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38 comments

You have to sign up... (0, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38960959)

...so fuck you, MIT.

Re:You have to sign up... (-1, Troll)

mark-t (151149) | more than 2 years ago | (#38961143)

Parent is marked as troll, but makes a valid point IMO. Requiring registration is always annoying.

Re:You have to sign up... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38963977)

I completely sympathize with parent and grand parent. Also, nowhere do they mention which technological solutions the game uses...

Question for the mods (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38967895)

How are the grandparent or parent trolling? Yes, this post itself is O/T, but how was either previous remark trying to solicit an argument or cause disruption (the understood definition of troll, when it comes to the internet), especially when one of them even said that it was only in the poster's own opinion? At best, they might be considered a bit off topic, since they talk about things that are arguably superfluous, rather than actually addressing anything in the article, but trolling? Come on!

2 pounds? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38961007)

I thought a brain weighed about 10 pounds. Or are we talking ROUSes...

Re:2 pounds? (3, Informative)

icebraining (1313345) | more than 2 years ago | (#38961059)

Neither. The average for an adult is ~1400 grams, which according to Google is ~3 pounds.

Re:2 pounds? (1)

ThatsMyNick (2004126) | more than 2 years ago | (#38961211)

Include non-adults, and the average becomes 1100 gms ~ 2.4 pounds.

Re:2 pounds? (3, Funny)

jamstar7 (694492) | more than 2 years ago | (#38961267)

Include Neocons and it drops down to 1.75 kg.

Re:2 pounds? (2)

icebraining (1313345) | more than 2 years ago | (#38961661)

So it starts with 1.1 kg and then it drops to 1.75 kg?

Re:2 pounds? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38966277)

So it starts with 1.1 kg and then it drops to 1.75 kg?

I thought it was a brilliant, subtle jab at the idiots who make everything a partison issue for no fucking reason.

But I'm probably giving him too much credit, and he really is that stupid...

Re:2 pounds? (2)

rubycodez (864176) | more than 2 years ago | (#38962177)

neocon's brains are the same size as anyone else's. They just don't use them much.

Re:2 pounds? (1)

icebraining (1313345) | more than 2 years ago | (#38961705)

Yes, but I don't think infants have the same number of neurons - the number referenced in TFA is for an adult brain, I think.

Re:2 pounds? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38966391)

Infants actually have more neurons, ironically. For the most part, we start with all of our neurons and then some of them die (this is thought to have some factor in learning, where less useful neurons die and their wiring is replaced by more useful neurons).

Re:2 pounds? (2)

oodaloop (1229816) | more than 2 years ago | (#38961195)

Your entire head weighs closer to 9 or 10 pounds. The brain is closer to about 3 or so.

Nice! (1)

jpwilliams (2430348) | more than 2 years ago | (#38961057)

As a former cognitive science student, I'm always amazed at how quickly the complexity of the brain limits our ability to understand it. While it's not the same as the Genome project, it's awesome when projects like this show up that prompt us to get a better understanding of the brain.

My question: can uneducated users really use the game to make valid discoveries? What prevents errors?

Also, it's a bummer that this is based on the eye, which has already had a ton of deep-dive research done.

Re:Nice! (1)

mark-t (151149) | more than 2 years ago | (#38961133)

I suspect that we will never really understand it... we might asymptotically approach an understanding of it, but I don't think we will ever get to a point where we fully do.

The reason for this is because we, ourselves, are limited in complexity of what is cognizable by the capacity and complexity of our own brains. I apologize profuesly in advance for the following oversimplification, but I imagine it would be like trying to an entire additional litre of water into another 1 litre cup that already has lots of other stuff in it. There just isn't any room to hold it all.

Re:Nice! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38961151)

when i read this.

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Re:Nice! (3, Insightful)

oodaloop (1229816) | more than 2 years ago | (#38961243)

Except that no one's brain has ever been "filled" up. And in any case, no one individual needs to fully understand it, just as no one individual knows every step in making a car from raw material to finished product. It's divided into multiple niches so that some individuals understand how to mine iron ore, make windshields, design new parts, assemble engines, etc. We as a species understand plenty of things no one individual understands.

Re:Nice! (1)

mark-t (151149) | more than 2 years ago | (#38961429)

Rather, I am stating that I imagine it will take no fewer than a like number of synaptic connections to understand what each group of synaptic connections in the brain does and how they actually work. By the pigeonhole principle, and especially owing to the fact that we already do know a lot of other stuff, there cannot possibly be enough room in our brains to understand how the brain actually works. We may asymptotically approach a full understanding, but I strongly suspect we will never actually have it.

Re:Nice! (2)

oodaloop (1229816) | more than 2 years ago | (#38961495)

I get what you're trying to say, but that's not how the brain stores information from what I understand. There is a particular connection, for instance, with 5,000 nerves. It allows more than 5,000 signals to propagate through it since it is factorial. 5,000! or 5,000 factorial is a finite number, but vast beyond imagining. This is why our brains don't "fill up" like your water bottle analogy. There is no reason why our brain couldn't understand what a brain does and how it works, your bad analogies notwithstanding.

Re:Nice! (1)

mark-t (151149) | more than 2 years ago | (#38961591)

Hey... I admitted it was an oversimplification. I know the reality is much more complicated than that, but I couldn't think of a concise way to describe it.

Anyways, you may be right... and although I'm skeptical, I still hope that you are. We will see someday, perhaps.

Re:Nice! (1)

Hentes (2461350) | more than 2 years ago | (#38961533)

Except that no one's brain has ever been "filled" up.

Sure it has. Why do you think we forget things?

Re:Nice! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38962461)

What you're talking about is compart-mentalization and without it the word would not work the way it does. Without it bombs would not be delivered into childrens' homes.

Re:Nice! (1)

jpwilliams (2430348) | more than 2 years ago | (#38961253)

I see what you're saying, but I don't know if I agree. The other systems of the body (lymbic, digestive, etc.) are fairly well understood, yet we don't possess the processing power to deliberately (keyword) run them. I believe scientific analysis of many many brains may one do yield just a good understanding of the brain.

This could even more true if you believe in the Singularity, which I personally don't, but it certainly warrants mention.

Re:Nice! (1)

Aar0n81 (1567093) | more than 2 years ago | (#38968279)

Belief in "the singularity" is not required. There is no single singularity. They have already been happening many many times in human history and there will be more in the future. From stone tools, to farming, all the way to the most recent one, the PC and internet. All a singularity is, is a new technology that changes our lives in ways we cannot predict. No one could have possibly predicted the impact the PC would have on our lives. I assume that you are really talking about the artificial intelligence singularity. We know intelligence is physically possible, otherwise we wouldn't be here on the internet discussing these issues. We also have pretty good models for predicting the future of certain technologies. If you used Moore's law in the 70-80's to predict where processing power would be at this moment in time, you would get something pretty accurate, however inconceivable it may seem at the time. My first PC was 66 Mhz, now I have a dual core 1.2 Ghz phone in my pocket with capabilities that I would have thought to be magic not too long ago. CPUs capable of performing human tasks are already here. Look at IBMs Watson. They didn't even need to know how the brain works. Eventually some technology will come along that will reveal the structure of the brain, but it's completely possible that human level AI will be here long before that.

Re:Nice! (2)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | more than 2 years ago | (#38961141)

Which makes it perfect. Try this new approach on the eye, because you already know what results you should get. If what comes out is completly wrong, you know the method has failed. If it mostly-matches what is already known then the method is validated, and it's time to try something a little more unfamiliar.

Re:Nice! (1)

jpwilliams (2430348) | more than 2 years ago | (#38961219)

Good point. But I don't think we know enough to say, even if the results of this do match past data, that applying this method to something more unfamiliar will yield similar quality. I guess it may bring up some interesting questions that could then be put to scientific scrutiny.

Re:Nice! (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38961335)

You and one of your follow-up posters suggested that the eye was basically too simple to try this technique on. This is not correct. The eye contains the retina, which is actually a part of the brain. It's a sort of small computer in the eye that, for example, calculates motion direction. Understanding how this works is cutting edge research, to which this technique has already contributed: http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v471/n7337/full/nature09818.html

On a more general note, acquiring these datasets takes a long time. Tracing the connections takes even longer. And there's a limit on how big they can get, which is a fraction of a millimeter along each edge. These things taken together put pretty strong constraints on what parts of the brain you should look at. Most of them will contain circuits that are too big to image or too big to reconstruct or both. This is why these guys have chosen to start with something simple, where they knew in advance that interesting circuits would be contained in the very small volume.

Disclaimer: I work in the field.

The point? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38961599)

Nice idea, just like fold.it
I don't just get it, if they already got thousands of high def pictures of slices of the eyeball/brain, I fail to see where the gamers can help that an image analyzing algorithm couldn't.

Omni (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38963305)

+1 for Omni!

Ambivalent (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 2 years ago | (#38963345)

On one hand, this is a totally cool use of crowdsourcing. On the other hand, this seems like precisely the kind of task at which the computer can be orders of magnitude better than humans with the "right" algorithm.

Re:Ambivalent (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38965617)

I see one of the data collectors behind this walk past my window this minute (working in the same lab)... and trust me, they have spent *a lot of effort* the last few years to find the "right algorithm", even before collaborating with MIT. A computer is orders of magnitude *worse* with current algorithms.

It is damn hard, because your algorithm needs ridiculously low error rates. Imagine you are a ghost walking through an enormous 3D maze of semi-transparent walls... if you make one mistake and walk through a wall, you won't end up where you wanted to end up.

Re:Ambivalent (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 2 years ago | (#38972815)

Is it at least the case that some of them are classified by computer, and the humans only get the difficult ones?

No more users (1)

tbird81 (946205) | more than 2 years ago | (#38964839)

There's just an input box so they can email you when they're ready for more users.

Reamde (1)

Kamiza Ikioi (893310) | more than 2 years ago | (#38966423)

This sounds familiar to part of Reamde, crowd-sourced gaming for real world activities.

And once we are done... (1)

3seas (184403) | more than 2 years ago | (#38967073)

We will have new overlords....

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