back to article An $18m supercomputer to simulate brains of mice in the land of Swiss cheese. How apt, HPE

HPE has sold an SGI 8600 supercomputer system to a Swiss research institute for the Blue Brain Project’s modeling of a mouse brain’s thalamus and neocortex. Blue Brain is a Swiss brain research initiative of the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) which aims to simulate the mammalian brain. It involves around 100 …

  1. Stoneshop Silver badge

    Swiss scientists should expect to find a desire for cheese

    But which? Leicester? Tilsit? Caerphilly, Bel Paese? Red Windsor? Stilton? Emmental? Gruyère? Norwegian Jarlsberger, Liptauer? Lancashire? White Stilton? Danish Blue? Double Gloucester? Cheshire? Dorset Blue Vinney? Brie, Roquefort, Pont-l'Évêque, Port Salut, Savoyard, Saint-Paulin, Carre-de-L'Est, Bresse-Bleu, Boursin? Camembert, Gouda? Edam? Caithness? Smoked Austrian? Japanese Sage Darby? Wensleydale? Greek Feta? Gorgonzola? Parmesan? Mozzarella? Pippo Crème? Danish Fimboe? Czech sheep's milk? Venezuelan Beaver Cheese?. Cheddar? Ilchester? Limburger?

    1. Flakk

      Re: Swiss scientists should expect to find a desire for cheese

      Is it worth it?

    2. Mephistro

      Re: Swiss scientists should expect to find a desire for cheese

      "Venezuelan Beaver Cheese"

      ***shudders***

    3. MrRimmerSIR!

      Re: Swiss scientists should expect to find a desire for cheese

      Esuriant?

  2. spold Silver badge

    $18M for something that looks like a wardrobe? Can I hang coats in it? I would expect some flashing lights at least, and perhaps an engineer with a white coat and a clipboard - oh they are in the wardrobe got-it.

    1. Wensleydale Cheese

      "$18M for something that looks like a wardrobe? "

      My first glance of the piccie had me thinking:

      "This is what Deep Thought should look like".

      Ok, maybe a bit bigger, but the general look suits.

      1. Stoneshop Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        "This is what Deep Thought should look like".

        Deep Thought is actually a fair bit more impressive

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: "This is what Deep Thought should look like".

          Liquid nitrogen cooling, well that figures, I suppose.

      2. Anonymous Coward
    2. Waseem Alkurdi

      $18M for something that looks like a wardrobe?

      Maybe a $10 worth of LEDs mounted on the front panel (and one above the left rubber leg) and a PC speaker emitting various noises at "boot-up" and randomly afterwards can help.

    3. Stoneshop Silver badge

      $18M for something that looks like a wardrobe?

      Any 1970-1980ish mainframe looks like a wardrobe. And they're pretty useful (the air-cooled ones that is) when you come in soaking wet from a rain shower; it was quite common to hang one's coat or jacket near the fan exhaust and have it dry before your second cup of tea. Your local service engineer would probably object to you hanging your clothes inside one.

      1. spold Silver badge

        Re: $18M for something that looks like a wardrobe?

        Yes but at least Cray made them octagonal and provided built in seating (padded mind-you) for the operations team to sit down and have a cuppa http://www.computerhistory.org/revolution/supercomputers/10/7

        1. Korev Silver badge

          Re: $18M for something that looks like a wardrobe?

          >Yes but at least Cray made them octagonal and provided built in seating

          EPFL has one in one of their buildings that's used for seating!

          They also have some other Cray and other HPC goodness in the Musée Bolo which is free to enter and worth a trip if you're in the area.

    4. ToddRundgrensUtopia

      @spold

      "Can I hang coats in it"

      You can if you wish

  3. spold Silver badge

    Mice? Mammalian brain?

    42

    1. Flakk

      But... but what is The Question?

  4. Waseem Alkurdi

    Is it legitimate to ask

    - How could this mighty computing power be fitted in a size of, er, a rat?

    Isn't this evidence of some intended design, not really randomness, and natural selection not exactly clear?

    - Another question: I've never understood why can't a regular PC simulate a human neural network. Aren't PCs powerful enough?

    1. Stoneshop Silver badge

      Re: Is it legitimate to ask

      Another question: I've never understood why can't a regular PC simulate a human neural network. Aren't PCs powerful enough?

      They probably can, but at a speed that would make glaciers look positively frisky.

      1. spold Silver badge

        Re: Is it legitimate to ask

        >>> that would make glaciers look positively frisky.

        I take it you are not an aficionado of Scandawegian glacial ice porn?

    2. JDX Gold badge

      Re: Is it legitimate to ask

      It is a legitimate question. On the one hand even our modern advances only highlight just how stupendously amazing the natural world is, which can invite disbelief such things could occur "at random". On the other, one can argue that our endeavours have been going on for just under 100 years whilst natural selection has been at work seemingly for over a billion years, or 10 million times longer - we simply can't think on that time-scale.

      Personally I still con't comprehend it being random (disclaimer I'm a Christian) but as scientist I realise not being able to comprehend it doesn't imply it can't be true. The physical and temporal scale of the universe don't suit the human brain well!

      1. pɹɐʍoɔ snoɯʎuouɐ
        Alien

        Re: Is it legitimate to ask

        "The physical and temporal scale of the universe don't suit the human brain well!"

        only if you don't understand how insignificant we are in the whole grandeur of the universe, sitting on our own little bit of rock revolving around a little yellow star at the unfashionable end of the western spiral arm of the milky way.

        1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

          Re: Is it legitimate to ask

          Evolutionary pressures computes so hard that it finds optimized designs basically based on nanomachines within a few millions years that are amazing.

          Not a chance to get even with today's clunky hardware. Maybe in another 50 years. Maybe not.

      2. ToddRundgrensUtopia

        Re: Is it legitimate to ask

        @JDX

        The giraffes laryngeal nerve suggests either natural selection or a crap designer

      3. MacroRodent Silver badge

        Re: Is it legitimate to ask

        One way to think about it I have found helpful is that evolution *is* intelligence when it operates on timescales of millions of years. So the brain was designed by an intelligence, it just is of a totally alien kind.

      4. Robert Helpmann??
        Childcatcher

        Re: Is it legitimate to ask

        On the one hand even our modern advances only highlight just how stupendously amazing the natural world is... On the other, one can argue that our endeavours have been going on for just under 100 years...

        And on the gripping hand, maybe we have been using the wrong tools to go about this. This seems to be a bit like using a claw hammer as a screw driver. While it may eventually get the job done, it's not really intended for that use. I hate to throw out buzzwords, but since the calculations for this sort of work go up exponentially as the simulations become more complex, wouldn't leasing some quantum computing time make sense for this kind of work? Isn't this the sort of scenario quantum computing is being pitched for?

    3. HamsterNet

      Re: Is it legitimate to ask

      Whilst only 75 million neurons in the mouse brain. Each neuron is connected to multiple others in a 3D space. The map of the neurons is 1.8 petabytes in size. Now you got that loaded into memory, just got to work out how many many neurons firing give rise to the emergence properties that case the mouse's behaviour.

      Humans have 100 billion neurons that give rise to the emergent property we call conscious, in a power envelope of just 20W.

      This is why the singularity is quite a way off yet, the computational power is far too weak and inefficient.

    4. Antron Argaiv Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: Is it legitimate to ask

      - How could this mighty computing power be fitted in a size of, er, a rat?

      Have you seen the size of the rats around here lately?

      // Boston, MA -- fish processing plants -- 'nuff said

      // we seem to be lacking a rat icon...

  5. Sceptic Tank
    Trollface

    Start simple

    I personally would have opted for a much simpler brain to simulate. In South Africa you find a band of beret-wearing politicians with the mental ability of a fungus but are yet capable of complex movement, (hate)speech and spotting opportunities to commit corruption.

  6. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    All that to simulate a portion of a mouse's brain. And yet it's claimed something small enough to be fitted in your car will be able to drive it better than a whole human brain?

    1. Korev Silver badge
      Boffin

      I saw a presentation from them a few years ago, they're completely different things. They were stimulating the neurons in a mouse brain and had integrated data from "wet labs" into their model. They showed a video of the simulated neurons firing.

    2. Francis Boyle

      It's the whole human brain that's the problem

      since it has the "I'd rather be doing something else than driving" module. Sometimes less is more.

  7. RobertLongshaft

    The system is already as intelligent as your average socialist.

    1. Schultz

      "as intelligent as your average socialist"

      Now who would that be? I would not consider myself average (who does), but having grown up in a 'social market democracy' and being a proponent of government controlled redistribution (progressive taxes, welfare) and socially responsible regulation you can probably throw me into that pool.

      Maybe, next time, check your prejudice against real people you know. Or if you don't know anybody that would fit the bill, go out and meet some - encountering new ideas won't shrink your intelligence even if those ideas are connected to socialism.

  8. Crisp

    White mice or brown mice?

    They're mice. What else is there to ask really?

    1. ToddRundgrensUtopia

      Re: White mice or brown mice?

      Brown mice is healthier to eat

    2. Korev Silver badge
      Joke

      Re: White mice or brown mice?

      That's just taking the mickey

  9. Felonmarmer

    ****OUT OF CHEESE ERROR****

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