President Obama Speaks on the BRAIN Initiative and American Innovation


Dr. Francis Collins:
Good morning. Thank you all for
being here today. I’m Francis Collins, Director
of the National Institutes of Health — NIH — and I am proud
to have the honor of welcoming you here to the East Room of the
White House for a very special scientific announcement
by the President. Investing in biomedical research
is one of the wisest choices we can make as a nation. The United States has long been
at the forefront of one medical breakthrough after another
— helping to save lives, improve people’s health
and grow the economy. Moving forward, we as a country
are extraordinarily fortunate to have a leader who places such
a high value on science — to unlock the mysteries of disease and discover new ways of overcoming them. But now we stand at the edge of
another frontier in biomedicine and biological research, which
the President will describe in a moment. Some may ask how we can afford
to talk about investing in bold new research during
difficult budgetary times. But the reality is, we
can’t afford not to. The worst thing we can do in challenging economic times is to stifle innovative thinking. And asking people in this room
to delay innovation would be like asking the cherry trees in
Washington to delay blooming. (laughter) It’s exactly that innovation
that holds immense potential — not just for the families
whose lives it will change, but for also spurring new jobs
and business opportunities. The President understands
this implicitly. He knows the importance of
connecting scientific advances with solid science policy. And he knows the
power of partnership. And that’s why he has brought
us all together here today — science agencies
within the government, as well as philanthropic
foundations and leaders in the private sector — to marshal
our talents and take on this next big challenge. So without further ado, it is a
great personal privilege and a high honor to introduce
our Scientist-in-Chief — (laughter) — the President of the
United States, Barack Obama. (applause) The President:
Thank you. (applause) Thank you. (applause) Thank you so much. (applause) Thank you, everybody. Please have a seat. Well, first of all, let me thank
Dr. Collins not just for the introduction but for his
incredible leadership at NIH. Those of you who know Francis
also know that he’s quite a gifted singer and musician. So I was asking whether he was
going to be willing to sing the introduction — (laughter) — and he declined. But his leadership has
been extraordinary. And I’m glad I’ve been
promoted Scientist-in-Chief. (laughter) Given my grades in physics,
I’m not sure it’s deserving. But I hold science
in proper esteem, so maybe that gives
me a little credit. Today I’ve invited some of the
smartest people in the country, some of the most imaginative
and effective researchers in the country — some very smart
people to talk about the challenge that I issued in my State of the Union address: to grow our economy, to create
new jobs, to reignite a rising, thriving middle class by
investing in one of our core strengths, and that’s
American innovation. Ideas are what
power our economy. It’s what sets us apart. It’s what America
has been all about. We have been a nation of
dreamers and risk-takers; people who see what nobody
else sees sooner than anybody else sees it. We do innovation better
than anybody else — and that makes our
economy stronger. When we invest in the best
ideas before anybody else does, our businesses and our workers
can make the best products and deliver the best services
before anybody else. And because of that
incredible dynamism, we don’t just attract the
best scientists or the best entrepreneurs — we also continually invest in their success. We support labs and universities
to help them learn and explore. And we fund grants to help them
turn a dream into a reality. And we have a patent system
to protect their inventions. And we offer loans to help
them turn those inventions into successful businesses. And the investments
don’t always pay off. But when they do, they change
our lives in ways that we could never have imagined. Computer chips and GPS
technology, the Internet — all these things grew out of
government investments in basic research. And sometimes, in fact, some of
the best products and services spin off completely from
unintended research that nobody expected to have
certain applications. Businesses then used that
technology to create countless new jobs. So the founders of Google got
their early support from the National Science Foundation. The Apollo project that put a
man on the moon also gave us eventually CAT scans. And every dollar we spent to map
the human genome has returned $140 to our economy — $1 of investment, $140 in return. Dr. Collins helped lead
that genome effort, and that’s why we thought it was
appropriate to have him here to announce the next
great American project, and that’s what we’re
calling the BRAIN Initiative. As humans, we can identify
galaxies light years away, we can study particles
smaller than an atom. But we still haven’t unlocked
the mystery of the three pounds of matter that sits
between our ears. (laughter) But today, scientists possess
the capability to study individual neurons and figure
out the main functions of certain areas of the brain. But a human brain contains
almost 100 billion neurons making trillions of connections. So Dr. Collins says it’s like
listening to the strings section and trying to figure out what
the whole orchestra sounds like. So as a result, we’re still
unable to cure diseases like Alzheimer’s or autism, or fully
reverse the effects of a stroke. And the most powerful computer
in the world isn’t nearly as intuitive as the
one we’re born with. So there is this enormous
mystery waiting to be unlocked, and the BRAIN Initiative will
change that by giving scientists the tools they need to get a
dynamic picture of the brain in action and better understand how
we think and how we learn and how we remember. And that knowledge could be
— will be — transformative. In the budget I will send
to Congress next week, I will propose a significant
investment by the National Institutes of Health, DARPA, and
the National Science Foundation to help get this
project off the ground. I’m directing my bioethics
commission to make sure all of the research is being
done in a responsible way. And we’re also partnering
with the private sector, including leading companies
and foundations and research institutions, to tap the
nation’s brightest minds to help us reach our goal. And of course, none
of this will be easy. If it was, we would already know
everything there was about how the brain works, and presumably
my life would be simpler here. (laughter) It could explain all kinds of
things that go on in Washington. (laughter) We could prescribe something. (laughter) So it won’t be easy. But think about what we could
do once we do crack this code. Imagine if no family had to feel
helpless watching a loved one disappear behind the mask of
Parkinson’s or struggle in the grip of epilepsy. Imagine if we could reverse
traumatic brain injury or PTSD for our veterans
who are coming home. Imagine if someone with a
prosthetic limb can now play the piano or throw a baseball
as well as anybody else, because the wiring from the
brain to that prosthetic is direct and triggered by what’s
already happening in the patient’s mind. What if computers could respond
to our thoughts or our language barriers could
come tumbling down. Or if millions of Americans were
suddenly finding new jobs in these fields — jobs we
haven’t even dreamt up yet — because we chose to
invest in this project. That’s the future
we’re imagining. That’s what we’re hoping for. That’s why the BRAIN Initiative
is so absolutely important. And that’s why it’s so important
that we think about basic research generally as a driver
of growth and that we replace the across-the-board budget cuts
that are threatening to set us back before we even get started. A few weeks ago, the directors
of some of our national laboratories said
that the sequester — these arbitrary,
across-the-board cuts that have gone into place — are so severe, so poorly designed that they will hold back a
generation of young scientists. When our leading thinkers wonder
if it still makes sense to encourage young people to get
involved in science in the first place because they’re not sure
whether the research funding and the grants will be there
to cultivate an entire new generation of scientists, that’s
something we should worry about. We can’t afford to miss these
opportunities while the rest of the world races ahead. We have to seize them. I don’t want the next
job-creating discoveries to happen in China or
India or Germany. I want them to
happen right here, in the United States of America. And that’s part of what this
BRAIN Initiative is about. That’s why we’re pursuing other “grand challenges” like making solar energy as cheap as coal or making electric vehicles as affordable as the ones that run on gas. They’re ambitious goals,
but they’re achievable. And we’re encouraging companies
and research universities and other organizations to
get involved and help us make progress. We have a chance to improve
the lives of not just millions, but billions of people on this
planet through the research that’s done in this
BRAIN Initiative alone. But it’s going to
require a serious effort, a sustained effort. And it’s going to require us as
a country to embody and embrace that spirit of discovery that
is what made America, America. They year before I was born, an
American company came out with one of the earliest
mini-computers. It was a revolutionary machine,
didn’t require its own air conditioning system. That was a big deal. It took only one
person to operate, but each computer was eight
feet tall, weighed 1,200 pounds, and cost more than $100,000. And today, most of the
people in this room, including the person whose
cell phone just rang — (laughter) — have a far more powerful computer in their pocket. Computers have become so small,
so universal, so ubiquitous, most of us can’t imagine
life without them — certainly, my kids can’t. And, as a consequence, millions
of Americans work in fields that didn’t exist before
their parents were born. Watson, the computer
that won “Jeopardy,” is now being used in hospitals
across the country to diagnose diseases like cancer. That’s how much progress has
been made in my lifetime and in many of yours. That’s how fast we can move
when we make the investments. But we can’t predict what
that next big thing will be. We don’t know what life will
be like 20 years from now, or 50 years, or 100
years down the road. What we do know is if we keep
investing in the most prominent, promising solutions to
our toughest problems, then things will get better. I don’t want our children or
grandchildren to look back on this day and wish we had done
more to keep America at the cutting edge. I want them to look back and be
proud that we took some risks, that we seized this opportunity. That’s what the
American story is about. That’s who we are. That’s why this BRAIN
Initiative is so important. And if we keep taking bold steps
like the one we’re talking about to learn about the brain, then
I’m confident America will continue to lead the world
in the next frontiers of human understanding. And all of you are going
to help us get there. So I’m very excited
about this project. Francis, let’s get to work. God bless you and God bless
the United States of America. Thank you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *