$1m. prize launched for brain research discovery

B.R.A.I.N. Prize to be awarded for significant breakthrough in brain research with global implications.

September 13, 2012 06:47
3 minute read.
X RAY shows DBS probes in the brain

X RAY shows DBS probes in the brain 370. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

“If we could crack the secrets of the brain, which is the most amazing biological computer, we could revolutionize every aspect of human life,” Dr. Rafi Gidron, the founder and chairman of Israel Brain Technologies, said on Wednesday.

Gidron was speaking at the opening of the High Tech Industry Association’s international conference at the Jerusalem International Convention Center to an audience that included Israel’s leading innovators and many from abroad, some of whom were visiting Israel for the first time.

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The occasion was used to launch the B.R.A.I.N. Prize (Breakthrough Research And Innovation in Neurotechnology), a $1 million prize to be awarded to any team or individual whose sufficiently significant breakthrough in brain research with global implications. The vision for the B.R.A.I.N. Prize, was that of President Shimon Peres who imagined the effects on human life and on the planet if the secrets of the brain were unlocked, Gidron acknowledged.

The processing power of the human brain is infinitely greater than that of any super computer, Gidron said.

“Each and every one of us has more than 70,000 complex thoughts a day.” Gidron asked his listeners to imagine what could be done if the human brain could be connected directly to machines, and proceeded to list a vast range of functions that could be put into operation simply through the power of thought.

However, more importantly he said, would be the ability to put an end to brain related diseases. Gidron revealed a staggering statistic that “one in every four people is affected by brain disease.” He regretted that he could not claim credit for initiating the idea of a prestige prize for people engaged in brain research.

Gidron showed a video of some of the effects of sensors implanted in the brains of a baseball star who had developed Parkinson’s disease and a motorcyclist who had become a quadriplegic is a serious traffic accident to prove his point that “brain technologies are changing our lives and the world.” He was confident that the million-dollar prize would usher in a new era of discovery in brain research.

Israel’s internationally reputed hitech guru Dr. Yossi Vardi, who is the High Tech Industry Association cochairman, asked Peres why Israel should be in the forefront of brain research, to which Peres replied: “If you don’t have land, better a brain.”

Although the remark was made half in jest and drew a laugh from the audience, Peres in more serious vein, without repeating the old adage that necessity is the mother of invention, cited two prime examples to prove its veracity.

He attributed Israel’s hi-tech achievements to agricultural and defense needs. When the first pioneers arrived in the country, they saw that land was not only sparse, but difficult to cultivate and water was scarce. That was the beginning of agricultural science based industries which have propelled Israel to the pinnacle of agricultural yields.

Similarly, when Israel found itself surrounded it by enemies it had to develop military technology. Both agricultural and military technology enabled Israel to survive, he said.

“Hi-tech was started by the army and the farmers.” Peres noted that the army was a good school for managers, initiatives, courage and risk taking.

Speaking in the presence of some of the brightest minds in Israel and the world, Vardi asked Peres what the role of such people should be outside of their business.

Peres was reasonably sure that business was not their sole motivation, but that they also had dreams for their families, their communities and their countries. He suggested that they follow the examples of billionaires such as Warren Buffet and Bill Gates and give back to the community so that hi-tech could become a social force for the benefit of humanity.

Underscoring that nowadays most major companies are global, Peres suggested that they form themselves into an advice and consent organization parallel to the OECD, with voluntary, non-binding membership and a platform for dialogue. Such an organization he said would be “a new army without arms.”

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