Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Brainy Idea

This is cool.

President Obama on Tuesday will announce a broad new research initiative, starting with $100 million in 2014, to invent and refine new technologies to understand the human brain, senior administration officials said Monday.

A senior administration scientist compared the new initiative to the Human Genome Project, in that it is directed at a problem that has seemed insoluble up to now: the recording and mapping of brain circuits in action in an effort to “show how millions of brain cells interact.”

It is different, however, in that it has, as yet, no clearly defined goals or endpoint. Coming up with those goals will be up to the scientists involved and may take more than year.

The effort will require the development of new tools not yet available to neuroscientists and, eventually, perhaps lead to progress in treating diseases like Alzheimer’s and epilepsy and traumatic brain injury. It will involve both government agencies and private institutions.

The initiative, which scientists involved in promoting the idea have been calling the Brain Activity Map project, will officially be known as Brain Research Through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies, or Brain for short; it has been designated a grand challenge of the 21st century by the Obama administration.

There are several reasons why I like this.  Everybody knows someone who has either suffered some kind of injury or has a brain disorder.  It is also the kind of thing that government funding does best.  Private medical research could do it, but unless there’s a way to make money at it, they’re probably going to spend more time on boner pills and hair restoration than curing Alzheimer’s.

It is often the government that gets America to do big bold things without a profit motive.  If you think of some of the things that we’ve done in the last sixty years, such as the interstate highway system or putting Neil Armstrong on the moon, it was done because we as a nation decided to do it through the government.  And along the way, the government didn’t exclude the capitalists; they hired them and paid for the research and promoted their products along the way.  Everybody wins something, and that’s called progress.

PS: I see that Steve Benen and I are having another of our psychic mind-melds.

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