Sunday, July 20, 2014

Graphics Processing Unit (GPU) for Brain Research

Graphics Processing Units (GPU) are commonly used to power video game software. However, they are also finding use for a more diverse array of scientific research as well. A GPU conference has recently taken place discussing some of the applications of this technology (see PDF 8.1 MB). Here are a few excerpts about the GPU brain projects. One deals with the connectome (circuit diagram).
Determining the detailed connections in brain circuits is a fundamental unsolved problem in neuroscience. Understanding this circuitry will enable brain scientists to confirm or refute existing models, develop new ones, and come closer to an understanding of how the brain works. Prof. Jeff Lichtman and Center for Brain Science (CBS) at Harvard launched the Connectome Project three years ago to determine the complete, detailed wiring diagrams of neural circuits from sequential high-resolution images of the central nervous system using electron microscopy (EM). These high-resolution, large-scale EM datasets pose very challenging computational problems for 3D segmentation and visualization in terms of developing suitable algorithms, coping with the ever-increasing data sizes, and maintaining interactive performance.
Visual recognition software is another area that this tech could speed up performance.
Nicolas Pinto is a second-year PhD Student in Computational Neuroscience at MIT. He is currently a member of the DiCarlo Lab and the Sinha Lab at MIT, and the Visual Neuroscience Group at Harvard. His research interests lie at the intersection of Brain and Computer Sciences. The overarching goal of his research is to dramatically accelerate the development of computational theories of how the visual cortex accomplishes object recognition. In addition to advancing our understanding of how the brain works by generating new experimentally testable hypotheses, this approach also holds great promise for the development of new artificial vision systems. A key innovation in his work is the ability to leverage the computational power of disruptive technologies like NVIDIA’s GPUs to provide new insights into this fundamental problem.
A Harvard researcher has recently talked about how these new methods will enable us to answer many of the big questions. From the Big Bang (and even before then) to the evolution of humans, computing power will truly help us understand almost any question imaginable. Better supercomputers may lead to complete and detailed simulations of living tissue. Researchers are developing multi-scale modeling from bio-molecules to organs (see PDF). With the help of these virtual models we will essentially be able to reprogram our own brain and body matter. Are we headed toward ageless bodies and superhappy minds? Only time will tell what new avenues this kind of processing power will open up.

See also GPU-Based Petascale Visual Computing for Analysis of Neural Circuitry (PDF).

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