Even tiny brains are complicated

This is impressive: scientists have scanned and imaged every neuron and every connection in a fly brain

. The data has been made freely available, and you can download the whole dataset, if you have 12TB of storage available.

Human brains have about a million times more neurons than a fly brain, and note also that this is morphological, rather than biochemical data, which is going to be even more complex. Adjust your expectations for mind uploading accordingly.


  1. sc_952aa4749bc97d9f655396ae086ec965 says

    Something something Moore’s law something something IT’LL BE FINE

  2. blf says

    Is this imaging of the brain of one single individual fly, or a synthesis / composite from the brains of many flys?† What is driving this question is, in the former (single-individual) case, I can imagine an anomaly causing some future researches to be misleading, presumably until there are other imagings to compare to or evidence of an anomaly is noted. This is not saying that studying an anomaly isn’t useful, only suggesting that (admittedly inadvertently) considering an unrecognised anomaly to be the “normal” can be unhelpful.

    I tend to suspect the imaging is from the brains of multiple flys, and so the result is some sort of a composite or whatever, just on practicality grounds.

      † The mildly deranged penguin suggests a single multi-brained fly.

  3. says

    So wait… does that mean the flies will be “uploaded” first? When the singularity happens we’ll die and wake up in a universe run by flies? WTF Kurzweil?!

  4. blf says

    a universe run by flies

    Well, the antics of the current panic† of politicians does rather suggest they are using Lord of the Flies as an instruction manual.

      † I have no idea what the collective noun for politicians is. Panic, mafia, toady, lawyer, and corruption all easily come to mind…

  5. Rob Grigjanis says

    blf @5:

    I have no idea what the collective noun for politicians is

    A putrescence.

  6. says

    This is one brain. That was my concern: I’d like to see comparative data to get an idea of the variations present, but this one sample was so labor-intensive it might be a while.

  7. mailliw says

    If you can read German then Randolf Menzel and Matthias Eckoldt’s book Die Intelligenz der Bienen is well worth a look.

    Menzel has been researching bee brains for many years now and runs a research lab at the Freie Universität Berlin.
    I came away very impressed by the astounding complexity of the tiny brain of the bee and the behaviour that bees are capable of.

  8. Owlmirror says

    Mr. Anderson, the good news is that we were able to scan your consciousness and save it.

    The bad news is that due to budget and technology shortfalls, you’re basically a swarm of bees.

    (The good news for me is that I am on the other side of this bee-proof window.)

  9. tacitus says

    Uploading minds is probably not the way to do it anyway. The key problem to solve is one of preservation, and that can best be done in situ, by replacing brain tissue with something more durable.

    Assuming we can one day accurately replicate the functionality of single neurons, it’s not beyond the realm of imagination that we could develop a process where we can replace neurons in the brain with artificial ones, keeping their morphology and connections intact. Indeed, such technology could be invaluable in treating all kinds of brain injuries and diseases.

    Ultimately, it might be possible replace the entire brain, slowly, over a period of months or even years, until it is entirely artificial in nature, and as a bonus, this process maintains the continuity of self. No copies or uploads necessary. It may even be possible to replicate the brain this way without fully understanding how it works.

    Of course, there’s a lot more to it than that if you don’t want to end up a thousand year old brain in a jar…

    And before people start trashing me for talking bullshit, just chill. It’s fun to speculate about such things. I know it’s not going to happen in my lifetime, or of anyone’s alive today. On the other hand, never is a very long time, and who’s to say what might be possible one day, if we survive as a civilization?

  10. unclefrogy says

    well I have heard of a ream of paper before even had one once but i do not know about a ream of politicians though I have heard of being reamed by politicians!
    uncle frogy

  11. cyberax says

    Keep in mind that 12Tb is taken by uncompressed images. The connectome will be around 4 orders of magnitude smaller (approximately 100MB).

  12. richardemmanuel says

    @tacitus – not just without understanding, without intent – as the exaptation of medicine. Of course the awake are mind-uploading themselves almost constantly, and over time transcending the physical platform – their previous brains being no longer there etc etc. Be interesting how boring it gets. Immortality will be the death of us.

  13. ragdish says

    Granted that the biochemical data adds much more complexity but none of that is a useful argument against uploading minds.

    The question is, do you need to fully understand neuronal biochemistry to understand the mind? Bear in mind, the human cerebellum has many more neurons, equivalent if not more inter-connections when compared with the cerebral cortex. And they have identical biochemistry. Yet, the cerebellum is not conscious. If removed, you’ll have zero balance and coordination but you will have a fully intact mind.

  14. madtom1999 says

    I’d be interested to see if we can ‘replicate’ that brain in a Neural Network. I’ve been playing with NN and was amazed when someone modelled a small brain (nematode?) which showed surprising increases in ‘bang per neuron’ over most of the state of the art models I’d seen.

    @19 ragdish. ‘A fully intact mind’? I think not – speak to amputees and you may find that while they are still identifiable as the people they were things change and loss of limbs can have a profound effect on a brain that devoted huge effort to those limbs. Some people still have phantom limbs many years after loosing them. I would not want to be on the list for mind-uploading until its had some serious debugging.

  15. tacitus says

    I would not want to be on the list for mind-uploading until its had some serious debugging.

    That’s okay, because it wouldn’t be you, just a copy of you…

    The phantom limb syndrome is a real concern, but in at least some cases, the more deleterious aspects of the syndrome are remarkably easy to fix. Some amputees feel pain from their phantom limb because it feels as though their missing hand is in a tightly clenched fist all the time. The fix? Use a simple set up with a box and a mirror so they can see their remaining hand where their missing hand should be, and even though they consciously know what’s going on, their mind is tricked into thinking its seeing the missing hand unclenched and the pain goes away.

    That would imply there are probably ways to overcome such issues in an uploaded mind — through the use of VR, maybe?

    As for boredom. How about selectively deleting memories of certain events so you can experience them again for the first time…? (Yeah, I know, it’s not that simple, but hey…)

  16. DanDare says

    Get your new Microsoft Windows Brain Upgrade module today! 10pb and 27pb versions available. All come with their own paperclip help prompt.