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The case for emulating insect brains using anatomical “wiring diagrams” equipped with biophysical models of neuronal activity


Developing whole-brain emulation (WBE) technology would provide immense benefits across neuroscience, biomedicine, artificial intelligence, and robotics. At this time, constructing a simulated human brain lacks feasibility due to limited experimental data and limited computational resources. However, I suggest that progress toward this goal might be accelerated by working toward an intermediate objective, namely insect brain emulation (IBE). More specifically, this would entail creating biologically realistic simulations of entire insect nervous systems along with more approximate simulations of non-neuronal insect physiology to make “virtual insects.” I argue that this could be realistically achievable within the next 20 years. I propose that developing emulations of insect brains will galvanize the global community of scientists, businesspeople, and policymakers toward pursuing the loftier goal of emulating the human brain. By demonstrating that WBE is possible via IBE, simulating mammalian brains and eventually the human brain may no longer be viewed as too radically ambitious to deserve substantial funding and resources. Furthermore, IBE will facilitate dramatic advances in cognitive neuroscience, artificial intelligence, and robotics through studies performed using virtual insects.

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The work was supported by the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation under the Beckman Scholars Program. I thank Michael P. Saddoris for his constructive feedback on the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Logan T. Collins.

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The author declares no competing financial interests.

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Communicated by Jan Benda.

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Collins, L.T. The case for emulating insect brains using anatomical “wiring diagrams” equipped with biophysical models of neuronal activity. Biol Cybern 113, 465–474 (2019).

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  • Connectomics
  • Hodgkin–Huxley models
  • Insects
  • Whole-brain emulation