Brain in the Shell. Assessing the Stakes and the Transformative Potential of the Human Brain Project

In Neuroscience and Critique. London: pp. 117–140 (2015)
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The “Human Brain Project” (HBP) is a large-scale European neuroscience and information communication technology (ICT) project that has been a matter of heated controversy since its inception. With its aim to simulate the entire human brain with the help of supercomputing technologies, the HBP plans to fundamentally change neuroscientific research practice, medical diagnosis, and eventually the use of computers itself. Its controversial nature and its potential impacts render the HBP a subject of crucial importance for critical studies of science and society. In this paper, we provide a critical exploratory analysis of the potential mid- to long-term impacts the HBP and its ICT infrastructure could be expected to have, provided its agenda will indeed be implemented and executed to a substantive degree. We analyse how the HBP aspires to change current neuroscientific practice, what impact its novel infrastructures could have on research culture, medical practice and the use of ICT, and how, given a certain degree of successful execution of the project’s aims, potential clinical and methodological applications could even transform society beyond scientific practice. Furthermore, we sketch the possibility that research such as that projected by the HBP may eventually transform our everyday world, even beyond the scope of the HBP’s explicit agenda, and beyond the isolated ‘application’ of some novel technological device. Finally, we point towards trajectories for further philosophical, historical and sociological research on the HBP that our exploratory analysis might help to inspire. Our analysis will yield important insights regardless of the actual success of the HBP. What we drive at, for the most part, is the broader dynamics of scientific and technological development of which the HBP agenda is merely one particularly striking exemplification.

Author Profiles

Philipp Haueis
Bielefeld University
Jan Slaby
Freie Universität Berlin


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