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EU Science

Europe's Got Talent For Geeks 97

Posted by samzenpus
from the best-in-show dept.
fiannaFailMan writes "Teams of scientists from across the continent are vying for a funding bonanza that could see two of them receive up to $1.33 billion over 10 years to keep Europe at the cutting edge of technology. The contest began with 26 proposals that were whittled down to six last year. Just four have made it to the final round. They include a plan to develop digital guardian angels that would keep people safe from harm; a massive data-crunching machine to simulate social, economic and technological change on our planet; an effort to craft the most accurate computer model of the human brain to date; and a team working to find better ways to produce and employ graphene — an ultra-thin material that could revolutionize manufacturing of everything from airplanes to computer chips."
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Europe's Got Talent For Geeks

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  • The Graphene one. The others are just the usual BS from people clueless about how computers work and what they can and cannot do. Oh, and of course researchers that will sell their soul and integrity for just a bit of grant money.

    • by pep939 (1957678) on Thursday January 17, 2013 @04:35AM (#42614697)
      I disagree. The human brain model is a realistic and useful project. In fact, modelisation has always been a very active field in computer science.
      • It's an interesting idea, but suggests a far greater understanding of how the brain works than we actually have. How can you abstract the important parts, when we have no idea what they are? We're still trying to figure out the many, highly complex biochemical pathways. Maybe that explain why, even though the project employs a full-time science writer, it never seems to publish very much?
        • by dmbasso (1052166) on Thursday January 17, 2013 @05:49AM (#42615013)

          How can you abstract the important parts, when we have no idea what they are?

          There are several levels of abstraction that one can pursue when modeling things. We already know a lot about things in all of these levels, only not in a fully comprehensive way. Modeling and simulation is an excellent way to give insights about the gaps in the knowledge and to direct further research.

          We're still trying to figure out the many, highly complex biochemical pathways.

          And each of the 250+ neurotransmitters has different physic-chemical dynamics. Does that mean we need to know everything before we make an overall functional model? Definitely no.

          Do I have to take into consideration every car in existence to make a model of congestion on roads? No. Now bring me my spherical cow please.

          • So you're saying "We know what happens to data that enters this part of the brain, but we don't know how it works. We'll just make something up that provides the same results"?

            Then you're not really modeling or truly even simulating the human brain.

            • by dmbasso (1052166)

              So you're saying "We know what happens to data that enters this part of the brain, but we don't know how it works. We'll just make something up that provides the same results"?

              No, I would not say in such a mocking tone what is basically the scientific method: to formulate a hypothesis and to test it against the data.

              Then you're not really modeling or truly even simulating the human brain.

              Oh really? Then perhaps you should enlighten us with your definition of modeling. While you're at it, keep in mind the same definition must apply to all sciences. For instance the Standard Model... nah, those physicists are not really modeling... what about all that dark matter???

          • by ModelX (182441)

            There are several levels of abstraction that one can pursue when modeling things. We already know a lot about things in all of these levels, only not in a fully comprehensive way. Modeling and simulation is an excellent way to give insights about the gaps in the knowledge and to direct further research.

            And each of the 250+ neurotransmitters has different physic-chemical dynamics. Does that mean we need to know everything before we make an overall functional model? Definitely no.

            Do I have to take into consideration every car in existence to make a model of congestion on roads? No. Now bring me my spherical cow please.

            If anything recent neuroscience research has shown us how little we know about how the brain works. Even for the parts whose function we do know we don't know the actual principles of operation. This is not even close to comprehensive understanding. Basically we know the functionality of the first few layers of neurons closest to receptors then we think we know bits about the next few layers but we know we don't know how the whole learning, adaptation and top-down processes work, and then the further up you

        • by aliquis (678370) <dospam@gmail.com> on Thursday January 17, 2013 @06:27AM (#42615123) Homepage

          Yeah and we will surely get there if we never try.

          "No need to do these weather simulations and prediction, we are often wrong anyway."

          Better give up anything we can't do atm. Tell that to your children.

          "No use for you to study math, you suck at it and there's so many others who are better than you. Why are you even trying?"

          WTF is wrong with people?

          It''s a good way to end all progress though.

          • I never intended to say we shouldn't try. What I meant to say is the approach of "let's simulate a whole brain" is a bit of a party trick and not a whole lot of use. I simply don't believe that making huge simulations with a very big computer is the answer. Simulating bits of brain is interesting. The true art in simulating - well, anything - is in the abstraction. Climate modelling is pretty cool, and often wrong. That doesn't mean it is of no use - the 'wrong' results are often as interesting as the right
          • We understand weather enough to simulate it.

            We understand math enough to properly teach it and implement it.

            We don't understand how the human brain works enough to simulate it.

            Science is based on guesses supported by facts: we don't just 'make shit up'. Tell your children.

            • by jelle (14827)

              "We understand weather enough to simulate it."
              "We don't understand how the human brain works enough to simulate it."

              Simulations allow numerical verification of models & theories.
              Simulations are part of the scientific process to 'understand' things better.

              A lot of that weather knowledge came from trying to simulate it and seeing where it was wrong and where it was right.

              It most definitely was not a situation where the weather scientists said, 'hey now that we know the weather, let's put it in a computer

        • by sFurbo (1361249)
          We seem to be quite far [wikipedia.org] already, having simulated the smallest functional unit of the rat neocortex years ago. The rest seems to be just a matter of scaling up (with all the problems that usually come from that, and probably more).
          • by gweihir (88907)

            We seem to be quite far [wikipedia.org] already, having simulated the smallest functional unit of the rat neocortex years ago. The rest seems to be just a matter of scaling up (with all the problems that usually come from that, and probably more).

            You mistake the results of this project for a success. It is not. It is a simulation of a model that does actually not deliver anything comparable to a working rat brain. Some abstract numbers are similar though if you look purely at the rat brain hardware and ignore everything on its software side. When you compare this to computers, simulating a PC compatible hardware is relatively simple. Put in usual software as well, and it becomes quite impossibly complex.

            As to scaling up, this is at the very least qu

            • by sFurbo (1361249)

              Some abstract numbers are similar though if you look purely at the rat brain hardware and ignore everything on its software side.

              How exactly do you look at brain hardware and ignore software? My understanding was that, when it comes to wetware, the two are so hopelessly intertwined that talking of one without the other makes no sense. Am I wrong in that assumption? How?

              • by gweihir (88907)

                On the basic level you are overlooking that your statement only holds for wetware that is alive. Dead wetware does not containe the critical software anymore. These researchers are basically simulating dead wetware and then put in some preconception on what it would look like alive. That way they are putting in > 90% of what is critical not by simulation, but by assumption.

                What they simulate is the interaction of some molecules in specific configuration. The configuration is put in from the outside as as

        • by gweihir (88907)

          Just my point. And this has been the state of affairs for quite a while. This project to "model" something without actually having a theoretical model that is detaled enough is a pure waste of grant money and researcher talent.

      • by crazyjj (2598719) *

        Anyone who thinks you can model a complex biological brain on a binary computer is just demonstrating how ignorant they are. You're not just talking a difference of degree there, but a fundamental difference of KIND.

        • by sFurbo (1361249) on Thursday January 17, 2013 @09:07AM (#42615889)
          Just like you can't simulate weather in a computer because it contains no water?
          • by Baloroth (2370816)

            Just like you can't simulate weather in a computer because it contains no water?

            A curious example, considering we haven't yet actually simulated a weather pattern with any degree of accuracy whatsoever. Sure, we've got models, but those models work with a resolution of a few dozen square kilometers, which has about as much connection to how weather actually works as a clay-ball model does to the shape of an atom. To actually simulate weather, you'd have to have a resolution down to individual atoms. The only way to accurately simulate weather is, indeed, either to have a "computer" tha

      • by jelle (14827)

        As soon as you truly fully simulate a human brain, wouldn't it be murder to turn the machine off?

        • by gweihir (88907)

          No. You cannot even begin to simulate anything that makes the brain alive. Let them succeed in simulating a life biological cell without using any abstractions first. Woops, that is impossible! And in the abstractions lies the problem: If you just put in the "being alive" from outside or as a stipulation, you do not simulate the thing itself, but the outside-view (interface behavior) reflecting your own misconceptions of what it should be.

          • by jelle (14827)

            What you're saying is that it's impossible to truly fully simulate a human brain, based on the observation that fully simulating a biological cell hasn't been done yet.

            But If they could make progress and do that, they could be simulating a brain that is a live. Then how would they be certain that that hasn't happened yet and it wasn't alive?

            And beyond that, how would they actually be certain that an incomplete simulation of a human brain is not alive? What if it's equivalent to a brain of a cat?

            At what time

      • by tenco (773732)

        Doesn't need to be a computer simulation. There already has been some research on how to model neurons in silicon. Just google it.

    • by LourensV (856614) on Thursday January 17, 2013 @05:26AM (#42614921)

      The Graphene one. The others are just the usual BS from people clueless about how computers work and what they can and cannot do.

      Spoken like a true programmer or sysadmin with no knowledge of statistics, modelling, machine learning or data analysis. I know, because I was one (and I still write code and maintain servers). But I've also moved into the above fields, and it's a completely different world. The discrete math and logic you use in programming are completely useless here, and the things you can do and the hurdles you come across are very different from the ones you see in programming. Of course, you still have to implement your models and analyses, and you get all the usual issues there (plus things like numerical instability), but even if the software is running fine you'll have things like parameter identifiability, difficulties in comparing models, lack of data in the places where you need it, conceptual problems with the models that can only be solved by making them more complex, which leads to lack of data problems and the need for massive amounts of compute power, and so on. These are the things they will be trying to tackle, and they have nothing to do with the limitations of Turing-style computers.

      I do remain sceptical about having a chat with a Turing-level AI any time soon, but data analysis, modelling and inference methods are getting better and better (see Google Search, Watson) and I don't think that continued research into these things is a waste of money. Neither do Google, Facebook, Microsoft, the US government, and the EU apparently.

      Finally, here's another EU project [futurict.eu] in this direction that is both scary and interesting.

      • by gweihir (88907)

        The Graphene one. The others are just the usual BS from people clueless about how computers work and what they can and cannot do.

        Spoken like a true programmer or sysadmin with no knowledge of statistics, modelling, machine learning or data analysis.

        Actually I am have a PhD in CS and I am still active in research (although not as much as I used to be). I am pretty sure I know what I am talking about though, and I have seen how this money-wasting machine that is EU research grant distribution works. I also have ties to the academic AI community, and there is nothing, nothing at all that suggests we could get anything resembling actual intelligence anytime soon, or ever, that is. No, at this time we do not even know whether it is fundamentally doable.

        Wat

        • by LourensV (856614)

          For sure there's a lot of money going around at the European level, and a lot of it is not spent on research but on all sorts of processes around it. Quite a bit is probably wasted, other things are just a consequence of trying to organise anything at that large a scale. Anyway, I just wanted to note that I agree with you on the probability of a true artificial intelligence being created any time soon, but I don't think that any of these projects require one or propose to create one, so your argument is bes

        • by hexagonc (1986422)

          I don't know where your skepticism is coming from but it looks to me like you're moving the goal posts. Every time a computer surpasses a feat that was formerly only thought to be possible with human intelligence, people move the goal posts and say that it wasn't intelligence after all. First it was chess, then Jeopardy. Now it seems to be physical problem solving involved with locomotion and vision. Self-driving cars and robots like big dog [youtube.com] will take us far in that direction. If your definition of int

          • by gweihir (88907)

            I am _not_ skeptic. I am merely commenting on the state-of-the art. At this time we do not have any tool or any theoretical insight that has a realistic likelihood of resulting in AI. That is not to say that somebody has the right idea tomorrow and thing change. I am also not saying I believe AI is impossible, I am saying that at this time it is impossible to say either way.

            One fundamental problem with your statement is that you assume a physicalist world. Yet whether physicalism or dualism is right is also

    • by aliquis (678370)

      Tss

      What you mean is "what I could or ever could imagine them to do."

      I'm sure if asked someone could had said something like "A computer can just crunch numbers, it will never be able to play chess" to.

      • by gweihir (88907)

        Tss

        What you mean is "what I could or ever could imagine them to do."

        I'm sure if asked someone could had said something like "A computer can just crunch numbers, it will never be able to play chess" to.

        Why do people always assume they understand the limitations of somebody else? My imagination is irrelevant here (and yes, I can very well imagine intelligent machines). What I am talking about (and I am a scientist in the CS area) is that the facts do not support the creation of AI anytime soon and do not predict it for the future. I am not saying it is impossible, I am saying the question is completely open.

        I have observed the results from the relevant research communities for quite a while, read the resea

        • by Anonymous Coward

          Brain simulation is about neuroscience, not about CS. And even if you have knowledge of CS (which is questionable) it is evident from your posts here that you have zero knowledge of neuroscience.

  • Big Brother (Score:4, Insightful)

    by NettiWelho (1147351) on Thursday January 17, 2013 @04:55AM (#42614797)

    They include a plan to develop digital guardian angels that would keep people safe from harm

    So in other words... Track everyone everywhere at any given time and keep informed on what they and the ones around them are up to? Given the track record of past human governments implementations of similar projects and more specifically what they do with the information I'd rather opt out of this one, even if it meant that, you know, I was responsible for me staying out of harms way.

    • But you have to respect the way they market it. It's not big brother but angels watching you!
      Sort of the "Ministry of Love" (Torture and Interrogation) and the "Ministry of Truth" (Propaganda) in 1984.

      Maybe all the psycho stalkers en pedofiles out there should also rebrand themself as guardian angels.

      • His team's Guardian Angels project aims to develop wearable, self-powered gadgets than can warn their users of danger, encourage them to exercise, and collect environmental and health information that could be of use to doctors.

        After actually reading the article, it's not Big Brother I fear the most.........
        Clippy is far, far worse and should be treated as the plague

    • by gweihir (88907)

      Well spotted. "Keeping people from harm" cannot actually be implemented, but a surveillance state is possible.

  • by bazmail (764941) on Thursday January 17, 2013 @04:58AM (#42614815)
    The anti-European sentiment expressed by americans here is really sickening. Why is it every time there is a story about something positive in Europe, americans innate sense of cultural inferiority comes to the fore expressed as hate.

    This scientist X-Factor style competition sure beats the hell out of Honey Booboo. So good luck with that you yanks.
    • by NettiWelho (1147351) on Thursday January 17, 2013 @05:02AM (#42614829)

      The anti-European sentiment expressed by americans here is really sickening. Why is it every time there is a story about something positive in Europe, americans innate sense of cultural inferiority comes to the fore expressed as hate.

      Well, the good thing is they seem to be the minority since they have to post as ACs or see their karma points turned into vapor.

    • by drankr (2796221)
      They don't hate us. They love us. We just don't love them back so they get frustrated. That's all. Back to the matter at hand - building a brane, you say... I think I might try that myself.
    • This scientist X-Factor style competition sure beats the hell out of Honey Booboo. So good luck with that you yanks.

      it helps to stand above the fray when trying to make such a point, not wade right into it, thus opening yourself up to charges of hypocrisy

      i'm american, and i'm rather envious of europeans with this story

      and i really don't know how you can tell a bunch of anonymous cowards are really americans

      so i think you have a bit of the psychological projection about you, friend

    • Our ancestors risked everything to escape from that shithole, and our collective wisdom protects us from its nefarious influences. Emigrant Martians feel the same way, as you can see by their determined efforts to sabotage travel to that hellish planet.
      • by gweihir (88907)

        Our ancestors risked everything to escape from that shithole, and our collective wisdom protects us from its nefarious influences. Emigrant Martians feel the same way, as you can see by their determined efforts to sabotage travel to that hellish planet.

        If I look at the US and Europe today, it seems to me that Europe is doing a lot better than the US. That would suggest the problem actually left with the people going to the US.

    • The anti-European sentiment expressed by americans here is really sickening.

      When you take your fellow Europeans to task for doing the same thing in reverse, get back to me.

      Until then, you're just howling because now it's *your* turn in the barrel and you somehow think that's unfair.

      • by gweihir (88907)

        Well, I am European and I have some anti-European sentiments as well, so you are entirely right. Europeans should be taken to task for being anti-European!

        Or not. From an European perspective, it is easy being anti-US, the differences are just that striking obvious. I mean, the US has not even solved basic problems, like sound infrastructure, health-care, education, food-safety, etc. Still, Europe is in decline, maybe it will eventually catch up with the US on that path, but that would take quire a while.

        • Is such utter cluelessness, ignorance, idiocy, etc... natural talent or did you take a degree somewhere?

          • by gweihir (88907)

            Ah, going Ad Hominem. Thanks, that confirms I must be right.

            As to the facts, I advise a long, cold, hard look at them. Patriotism can make you really, really blind.

        • by tsotha (720379)

          From an European perspective, it is easy being anti-US, the differences are just that striking obvious. I mean, the US has not even solved basic problems, like sound infrastructure, health-care, education, food-safety, etc.

          It's amusing how anti-European sentiment from Americans (capitalized, by the way) is "really sickening", but anti-American sentiment on your part seems perfectly logical. I guess when you're from the place that gave birth to communism and fascism, which have together killed hundreds of m

  • Glancing through the projects, I just don't see what they're going to sink that money into. Three of them are relatively ambitious data collecting and model building for society, the human brain, and particular human bodies. One is just a modest bit of materials science (graphene development). And the remaining two are just a bit of systems development (a electronic system for holistic monitoring of the human body and creating robotic "companions").

    If I took that original amount of funds, divided it by t

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