Government to Search for Brain’s Buy Button?

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OK, there’s not really a buy button in the brain waiting to be discovered. But the U.S. government is, in fact, launching a major project to create a detailed map of the human brain.

Much like the earlier and highly successful Human Genome Project, the Brain Activity Map will be a national project to determine brain functions with a high level of detail.

Some of the resources being brought to bear include the $40 million NIH Human Connectome Project, new computational tools from the Allen Institute for Brain Science, and $300 million in software from Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft. According to the Wall Street Journal, the project will “bring together theoreticians, experimentalists and data-storage experts who can pool resources, share data and accelerate the development of tools in brain research.”

One of the hopes of the project is to measure brain activity at the neuron level, perhaps measuring the activity of thousands of neurons at the same time. This is in sharp contrast to current neuromarketing technology, which records externally measured brain electrical activity (EEG) or activity in larger brain areas (fMRI).

President Obama made a brief reference to brain mapping in his latest State of the Union address, which bodes well for funding prioritization. The project could take up to 15 years to complete.

While the researchers are unlikely to stumble across any buy buttons, I expect to see other benefits for neuromarketers. Greater understanding of how individual areas of the brain function should lead to better interpretive tools for current data collection techniques, and new, more precise activity measurement tools will almost certainly be developed.

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