The Brain Mapping Games: May the Odds Be Ever in Our Favor


Lily Bui over at CitizenSci:

Science takes time, and data analysis on this scale would certainly not happen overnight. Some say that the Human Genome Project left us realizing there is still so much more to learn. Will the Brain Activity Map and projects like it encounter the same challenges upon completion, whenever that may be?

The tricky part is that scientists have yet to find a way to record the activity of more than a small number of neurons simultaneously without invasive physical probes. New technology enables us to provide the right kinds of images to “map” the brain, but the volume of images that come through would be so overwhelming that it would take an insurmountable amount of time to process the data. Even today’s leading technology, from neuro-nanotech to optobiology to synthetic biology sensors, is limited when it comes to such a large undertaking.

Here’s where projects like EyeWire come in.

EyeWire is an online community of “citizen neuroscientists” who map the retinal connectome (neurons in the retina) by playing an online game. Because the feat of mapping the human brain solo (or even as a small team) would be infinitely large, EyeWire has made use of crowdsourcing strategies to collect data.

“Researchers have calculated that with today’s technology it would take one person 100,000 years to map one cubic millimeter of the brain without the aid of artificial intelligence,” says Amy Robinson, who works on the EyeWire team. (Just to give you a scale, an entire human brain is roughly 1,000,000 cubic millimeters.) “It takes a researcher at our lab…upwards of 50 hours to map an entire cell, depending on its size…and there are over 80 billion neurons in the brain.”