Modeled on the billions of neurons in the human brain and built to be as much of a replica of its bioelectrical nature as possible, Canadian scientists were able to make their virtual brain engage in some basic human cognitive activity such as reading and memorizing lists of things then using them in other activities.

In 10 years, we might see robots on wheels doing courier deliveries in cities.

His team reports that the virtual brain can perform eight tasks that involve recognizing, remembering and writing down numbers.

They say Spaun can shift from task to task, “just like the human brain,” recognizing an object one moment and memorizing a list of numbers the next.

And like humans, Spaun is better at remembering numbers at the beginning and end of the list than the ones in the middle.

Spaun’s cognition and behaviour is very basic, but it can learn patterns it has never seen before and use that knowledge to figure out the best answer to a question. “So it does learn,” says Eliasmith.

But it is not – at least not yet – a match for the real thing.

“Spaun is not as adaptive as a real brain, as the model is unable to learn completely new tasks,” the team reports in Science. “In addition, both attention and eye position of the model is fixed, making Spaun unable to control its own input.”

Observers say the Waterloo brain captures key aspects of perception, cognition and behaviour. It sets a “new benchmark” for large-scale simulation of the brain, Christian Machens, of the Champalimaud Centre for the Unknown, a research institute in Portugal, says in a review of the Waterloo work also published in Science. Machens was not involved in the research.