Paul Allen - Allen Institute for Brain Science
Original Microsoft coder turned brain decoder
Cofounder, Allen Institute for Brain Science
Heady as this might sound, Paul Allen thinks his huge fortune and serial curiosity can help unlock mysteries about human consciousness and other brain functions. Don't put these audacious goals past Allen; he has already blazed trails in the business world as a cofounder of Microsoft and backer of commercial space travel (though less so as owner of the hapless Portland Trail Blazers).
Kidding aside, Allen has committed $500 million of his personal fortune to support the Allen Institute for Brain Science. Fueled with those serious dollars, the Seattle-based institute has already developed some indispensible tools for neuroscientists--available for free online in an open format--including GPS-like maps of the mouse and human brains.
Allen, who used to write software during his days at Microsoft, seems fascinated with the complex connections that underpin brain functions. "As an ex-programmer I'm still just curious about how the brain functions, how that flow of information really happens," Allen told Forbes in a rare interview published last year. "The thing you realize when you get into studying neuroscience, even a little bit, is that everything is connected to everything else."
Sounds like the brain could have a lot in common with a microprocessor. Alas, the brain contains many more unknowns, some of which Allen's eponymous institute aims to expose in the coming years with computational tools called brain observatories that map cellular and synaptic processes to brain functions and puzzle out the inner workings of memory, awareness and behavior, the Wall Street Journal reported last March.
Now this brain business is starting to sound a lot more like space exploration. Fortunately, Allen has experience with extraterrestrial missions too. Bill Gates has always overshadowed Allen's impact at Microsoft, which Allen left about 30 years ago, but Allen might have the upper hand in neuroscience.
- Paul Allen - Allen Institute for Brain Science