SC13 Session Presents challenges and progress in the Human Brain Project

by Julie Lynton

On Tuesday June 18, a session on “Supercomputing & Human Brain Project – Following Brain Research & ICT on 10-Year Quest” will be held in Leipzig, Germany at the ISC’13. According to the ISC website, the session will be the first of a yearly series dedicating to the Human Brain Project, “presenting the challenge and the progress and to provide a platform for engaging the community of High Performance Computing and beyond.” The European Commission announced their financial support early this year of the Human Brain Project as one of two projects awarded through the Future and Emerging Technologies (FET) initiative. The estimated cost of the project is 1.19 billion Euros. In addition to the team at EPFL, charged with coordinating the project, a number of other Swiss organizations are taking part. These include the Swiss Supercomputing Centre CSCS at Lugano who will provide access to their facilities and Richard Frackowiak and his team who are responsible for the medical informatics platform.

Estimates are that the human brain has as many as 90 billion neurons. The goal of the Human Brain Project is to provide knowledge on the brains neurons and their interactions. The project is focused on bringing together as much information as possible about the brain by the year 2023. Researchers will gather information from around the world and then combine this data into singular models and virtual simulations of the brain. In order to facilitate this federation of this global neuroscience data the team is developing 6 ICT platforms. These include neuroinformatics, brain simulation, medical informatics, supercomputing, neuromorphic computing and neurorobotics. The applications of this research are intended for use in medicine as well as computing architectures.

Presenters to Include Human Brain Project Co-Director Dr. Karlheinz Meier

The session will begin with a presentation by Prof. Felix Schürmann, Adjunct Professor at the Ecole polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) and General Project Manager of the Blue Brain Project. Schürmann, studied for his Ph.D. at the University of Heidelberg, Germany, under the supervision of Karlheinz Meier. The Blue Brain Project aims to create a virtual simulation of the human brain. To date they have successfully isolated approximately 50 varieties of neurons in the cortical column. On average they run a model of the cortical column every two weeks using data from experiments conducted with living neurons.

The second presenter is Prof. Thomas Lippert, Director of the Jülich Supercomputing Center at Forschungszentrum Jülich and acting director of the John von Neumann Institute for Computing.

Prof. Thomas Schulthess, Director of the Swiss National Supercomputing Centre is the third presenter. Schulthess has been a chair in Computational Physics at ETH Zurich since 2008. He also directs the Swiss National Supercomputing Center in Lugano. His research concentrates on condensed matter physics and the development of high-end computing systems for simulation-based sciences.

Finally Visiting Professor at EPFL, Prof. Karlheinz Meier will speak. Meier has been co-Director of the European Union Human Brain Project since 2011. He is also the Coordinator of the EU Brain ScalesS Consortium and Coordinator of the Marie-Curie Network FACETS-ITN among many others. His research interests include physics instrumentation, physical foundations of information processing and physical models of neural circuits.

Memory and the Brain: New Developments in Technology

As announced June 12 by the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETH Zurich), the need to manage large amounts of information from brain models is already leading to new technological developments. IBM Research, EPF Lausanne, and ETH Zurich through the Swiss National Supercomputing Center CSCS are researching how to combine standard computer memory and flash memory in order to optimize supercomputing operations. The applications for this technology, according to Blue Brain Director, Felix Schürmann, have much broader applications. The scientists have already successfully increased the capacity of a new IBM Blue Gene/Q supercomputer’s by combining 64 terabytes of DRAM Memory with 128 terabytes of flash memory.

Outside of the research community the demand for exponentially greater memory includes applications within the corporate community for financial cover, banking, credit reporting and government services. As the demand for data grows within government, business and NGO’s, the requirements of storage systems for the collection of data is growing at a rate that follows Moore’s Law, doubling every two years. As data increases new uses are also being developed. Take for example the storage by insurance companies of emails and other electronic documents in case they are ever needed for future litigation. According to the research company IDC, the amount of digital information will likely grow by 35 trillion gigabytes within 8 years. As published in Forsyth Communication, March 2012, “In 2011 alone, the amount of digital information created and replicated surpassed 1.8 trillion gigabytes – growing by a factor of nine in just five years, according to IDC. That’s on par with the number of stars in the physical universe.”

ISC Global Conference A Global Event

The ISC Global Conference is now entering it’s 28th year with a five-day program including speakers from 175 leading research companies and centres. Organizers estimate 2,500 attendees at this years conference exploring high-performance computing, networking and storage. The conference runs June 16-20 at the Conference Centre Leipzig, Germany.