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Google Tech talk Lecture: Computational Neuroscience March 15, 2007

Posted by Johan in Connectionism, Neural Networks, Neuroscience.
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Google holds regular internal Tech talks – lectures given by researchers in pretty much any field that catches someone’s interest at Google. The lectures get posted on Google Video. Here is a lecture on Computational Neuroscience by Bill Softky, ambitiously named “Hacking the Brain by Predicting the Future and Inverting the Un-Invertible.”

Softky is a theoretical neuroscientist, and true to form, he argues that understanding the basic elements of neural functioning is not going to lead to a major leap forward. Instead, he wants to understand the mathematical logic underlying neural circuitry. He makes a rather bold prediction that there will soon be a “general algorithm,” which explains all neural activity. This algorithm is not necessarily going to be a set of equations. Rather, it will be a model, an overall architecture. Softky finds support for the idea that the brain is governed by a unitary algorithm in the basic notion that the surface of cortex is pretty much the same everywhere, even though this uniform structure manages completely different forms of processing, depending on what bit of cortex you look at. Likewise, the fact that the area where the primary visual cortex normally resides is recruited for other purposes in congenitally blind people is used by Softky to emphasise the point that cortex has a general structure, which learns and specialises through a general algorithm.

The lecture gets technical fast, and the constant computer geek metaphors are a bit tiresome (for the love of God, stop referring to everything you do as “hacking!”), but the content makes up for it. The Q & A session at the end is particularly interesting – some fairly penetrating questions are asked, especially considering that the audience is unlikely to have a background in neuroscience.

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