The Three-Billion-Dollar Brain

— The New Yorker

Last week, the Human Connectome Project, supported jointly by sixteen components of the National Institutes of Health, released its first set of data, a massive set of structural and functional images of the brains of sixty-eight adult volunteers—to almost no fanfare whatsoever. The amount of data, two terabytes, is so great that it poses problems for the Internet; you can download it for free if you like, but the organizers of the project would rather mail it to you on a hard drive.

The announcement has received so little press so far because nobody has yet figured what to do with all the data. In principle, data of this sort might contribute to understanding how the brain works, and might have important implications for treating neurological disease—especially when the project is complete, and the researchers have scanned all one thousand two hundred subjects. But, for now, we know how much data has been collected, but not what it all means.

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