The European Union is funding an increasing number of support and research programmes in the field of Information and Communication Technologies. The EU Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Programme (CIP) includes a range of brain-related research projects.
Since the launch of the 7th Framework Programme for research and technological development in 2007, the European Union has invested over €1.9 billion in brain research. Despite major progress in recent decades, there is still a great deal to discover: from building computers that ‘think’ like humans to detecting and curing the brain disorders – including Alzheimer’s, autism and schizophrenia – which affect up to a third of all Europeans each year. Ambitious projects across the EU are now starting to take up the challenge, with a view to developing new remedies for brain disorders based on revolutionary information and communication technologies.
Building an integrated system of research platforms based on ICTs
The EU’s objective is to give researchers access to innovative tools and services which could radically speed up the pace of their research and at the same time lead to a global collaboration effort. For example, the Collective Experience of Empathic Data Systems (CEEDS) project is working on enabling users to make sense of and find meaning in large data sets by unlocking the power of subconscious processes. With the help of embedded technologies which measure user reactions when the data is visualised, CEEDS is designed to help computers and humans to work together. The BrainScaleS project goes even further, helping computers to ‘think’ like human beings. Traditional computers are based on the ‘von Neumann’ architecture, which uses separated memory/storage and processing units. Now the researchers have taken computing beyond these constraints by using structures which imitate the way the human brain works.
Developing BCI techniques
One of the major contributions of a direct neuronal interface (DNI), also known as a Brain-Computer Interface (BCI), would be to help car accident victims and people suffering from paralysis. The BrainAble project is for example intended to develop an advanced brain-computer interface which would restore a degree of autonomy to people living with such severe disabilities. The BrainAble researchers are overcoming the slow reaction speeds of previous systems by embedding intelligence into their platform, so that the system understands the user's context and habits and can act proactively. The platform even provides simplified access to social networking channels such as Twitter and Facebook, which are becoming increasingly important tools in helping disabled people to overcome social isolation.