Reverse Engineering the Mind with Brain Corp. CEO Eugene Izhikevich

The brain initiative that President Obama unfurled last week calls for spending over $100 million a year on neuroscience research over the next decade, including the development of innovative neurotechnologies to gain new insights into the way the brain works.

As the Salk Institute neuroscientist Terrence Sejnowski put it, “This is the start of the million neuron march”—an ambitious quest to accomplish for the central nervous system what the $3 billion Human Genome Project has done for our understanding of genetics.

Part of what’s known as the Brain Research Through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative already is underway in San Diego, in what might be described as the ultimate hack: Reverse engineering the human brain to create a duplicate system that can be implemented using semiconductors and software.

Brain Corp. CEO Eugene Izhikevich

Eugene Izhikevich (and Kate)

Eugene Izhikevich has been at the forefront of this emerging field for more than a decade. A computational neuroscientist, Izhikevich moved to San Diego in 2000 when he began a fellowship in theoretical neurobiology at The Neurosciences Institute in La Jolla. In 2009, he founded Brain Corp., a startup backed by Qualcomm Ventures. Izhikevich serves as the CEO and chairman of Brain Corp., which has been incubating at the San Diego headquarters of Quaclomm (NASDAQ: QCOM), the world’s largest wireless chipmaker.

The first research breakthrough came in 2003, when Izhikevich published an algorithm to describe the pulsed signal of “spiking” neurons in the brain. With this, he created a computer model in 2005 that simulates the signaling activity of 100 billion neurons and a quadrillion synapses, which he says is roughly equivalent to the size of the entire human brain.

Izhikevich says the Obama administration’s BRAIN initiative has three thrusts: 1) recording the brain’s activity to a level of detail that was not previously possible; 2) stimulating the brain in controllable ways to identify the structure and function of different regions; and 3) developing computer systems that model the biological processes of the brain.

In an e-mail, he writes, “During my years at the … Next Page »

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Bruce V. Bigelow is the editor of Xconomy San Diego. You can e-mail him at or call (619) 669-8788 Follow @bvbigelow

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