President Obama is really interested in your brain.
After briefly mentioning it in his State of the Union speech last week, the president announced his administration is planning a decade-long project to learn more about how the human brain functions.
The project will employ U.S. government agencies, private foundations, teams of neuroscientists and nano-scientists in the search for how the brain works. The Brain Activity Map project could start as early as March, and is estimated to costs billions of dollars. Scientists are hoping for more than $300 million in federal funding per year, which will most likely total around $3 billion for a decade of research. But if Obama's predictions are correct, this spending will yield massive returns for the economy. The president cited the Human Genome Project as an example.
"Every dollar we invested to map the human genome returned $140 to our economy – every dollar," Obama said in his State of the Union address last week. "Today our scientists are mapping the human brain to unlock the answers to Alzheimer's. They're developing drugs to regenerate damaged organs, devising new materials to make batteries 10 times more powerful. Now is not the time to gut these job-creating investments in science and innovation."
"The Human Genome Project was on the order of about $300 million a year for a decade," George M. Church, a Harvard University molecular biologist involved in that project and also planning the Brain Activity Map project, told the New York Times. "If you look at the total spending in neuroscience and nano-science that might be relative to this today, we are already spending more than that. We probably won't spend less money, but we will probably get a lot more bang for the buck."
The project could be a legacy project for the administration, much like the Apollo Program was for John F. Kennedy. Of course, the Brain Activity Map project won't be putting astronauts on the moon, but understanding the brain could have great benefits for the treatment of Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases, as well as help us understand human consciousness. Understanding consciousness would jumpstart artificial intelligence research.
The United States is not alone in wanting to fund massive neurological projects. Weeks ago, the European Union announced another project that seeks to build a working simulation of the brain.