TechHarvard and Google AI Unlock Brain Secrets in Epic Study

Harvard and Google AI Unlock Brain Secrets in Epic Study

Harvard and Google AI Unlock Brain Secrets in Epic Study
Images source: © Unsplash

5:04 PM EDT, May 15, 2024

In a groundbreaking collaboration, Harvard scientists and Google's artificial intelligence experts conducted the most advanced study of neurons to date. They produced a comprehensive image and map of a fragment of the human brain, amassing data exceeding 1.4 petabytes. This research has unveiled numerous fascinating findings.

The study utilized a brain sample from a patient with epilepsy, aiming to gain insights to better manage the condition. However, the team's discoveries went far beyond understanding the disease; they developed the most precise human brain map yet.

A Small Fragment of the Brain

A cube-shaped tissue fragment, measuring about 0.04 inches, was removed during surgery and further sliced into 5,000 slivers, each thinner than a strand of human hair. Every slice was captured using an electron microscope, and these images were then merged to form a digital representation of the brain. The Google team applied machine learning to transform these 2D images into a comprehensive 3D map, revealing a wealth of previously unknown information thanks to this significant magnification.

Data We Didn't Know

The research uncovered several new aspects of the brain, including symmetrically growing cell clusters, single neurons with more than 5,000 connections, and axons winding into balls for reasons yet to be understood.

Speaking with The Guardian, Professor Jeff Lichtman from Harvard mentioned that the findings include details not found in any textbook, highlighting a vast disparity between our current understanding and the vast unknown that remains.

Brain Maps Take Up a Huge Amount of Space

The tiny brain fragment generated a staggering 1.4 petabytes of data, enabling the creation of the most detailed human brain image to date—yet it represents only a fraction of the entire brain.

With current technology, mapping an entire adult human brain would require about 1.6 zettabytes of data. Tom’s Hardware Service reported that achieving this would necessitate a computing system occupying nearly 57 hectares (about 141 acres), or roughly the size of 79 soccer fields.

The Operation of the Brain

Despite significant technological and scientific advancements, the human brain continues to conceal its mysteries. The full scope of how this organ functions, transforming neuronal activity into conscious thought and experiences, remains elusive. While scientists are making progress in mapping the cells and connections within the brain, fully decrypting the complexities of its operation is still a challenge.

Related content