We had the space race in the 60s, then the race to map the genome in the 90s. Now the race is on to map the human brain...
The EU has kicked off first with the Human Brain Project, an ambitious attempt to simulate an active human brain using supercomputers and the aggregated research from 80 different neuroscience institutes. The 3 main aims are: to radically improve our understanding of the active human brain and consciousness; to make huge strides in medical understanding and treatment of brain diseases such as alzheimers (which apparently cost more now than heart disease, cancer and diabetes combined); and to make radical advances in computing - not just morepowerful computers, but brain-inspired neuromorphic computers.
The US is not far behind wih the Brain Activity Map, which wants to do similar things but is taking a different approach. Instead of building a simulation inside a supercomputer, the focus is on finding better ways to gather information from the brain. One possibility is to build a complete model map of brain activity by creating fleets of molecule-size machines to noninvasively act as sensors to measure and store brain activity at the cellular level.
Both projects have serious funding behind them ($1bn+) and are likely to generate lots of spin-off technologies whether or not they succeed in their main aims. We might also see China and India also starting to take an interest in this type of project soon as their technology and research sectors are growing fast.