We can’t simulate nematodes with only 302 neurons

148 words

C. Elegans is a wonderful creature. It’s a nematode, so it looks like a tiny worm. It is one of biologists’ favorite model organisms and we know a lot about it.

Bob Goldstein, 2007, CC-BY-SA, via Wikimedia Commons.

It has roughly 1000 cells, and its cell lineage is almost identical for every individual. This creature has been mapped out more thoroughly than any other species on the planet. You can browse a map of its cells through the OpenWorm Browser. The hermaphrodite has 302 neurons and its connectome is completely known.

And faithfully simulating a nematode remains far out of reach. The state of the art is concerned with modeling basic aspects of its locomotion, like its different gaits on different surfaces.

It is silly to think we’ll be simulating human minds any time soon, when people have been trying to simulate C. Elegans for decades now.


  1. Coincidentally, on the same day I published this blog post, The Atlantic published a nice piece on the Human Brain Project, a project that got $1B (yes, really, billion) from the EU ten years ago with the intent of faithfully simulating the human brain in software within ten years. Needless to say, they did not succeed and never could have.

    I planned to write a comment on the analogy with OpenAI receiving $1B from Microsoft this week with the intent of building AGI and it being a similar waste of money, but it’s not. OpenAI has been wasting many times that money since its inception so really its worse than HBP.

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