Spring 2018

The Brain and Computation

Jan. 9May 11, 2018

The conceptual affinity between the brain and the computer dates back to the mid-20th century, as the pioneering theoreticians of both fields (von Neumann, Turing, McCulloch, Pitts, Barlow) were beginning to leverage their interests in the other field to gain a better understanding of their own. Both fields have exploded in the past decades in terms of new knowledge, methodology, and prestige. But as they have become more technical and sophisticated, they have also grown further apart.

This program aimed to rekindle the affinity between these two fields, recognizing the enormous potential for what could be achieved in a unified research effort. It brought together a group of outstanding researchers in both brain science and theoretical computer science to attack some of the most important current problems in brain science that we believe particularly require joint scrutiny and collaboration.

The program focused on three research themes:

1. Open questions in brain science that have an important computational component. What are the roles of sparsity and overcompleteness in neural representation? How do neurons compute with spikes and dendritic nonlinearities? What can be learned from fine-grained brain connectivity (connectomics)? How do neuronal assemblies and synchrony emerge, and what role do they play in brain function?

2. Research problems in brain science where we expect computer scientists to take the lead. Recent efforts to map the anatomy, structure, and function of the brain are resulting in a deluge of data and considerable difficulties of interpretation, many of a computational nature. Machine learning plays an important role here, but what new conceptual and methodological advances are needed to outfit brain research? Computational theories are now emerging that can help us understand the dynamics of perception-action loops and cognitive functions such as language. However, much more work is needed to tie these to specific neuronal substrates and mechanisms.

3. Areas of computer science where we hope to see advances as a result of discoveries in neuroscience. New graph-theoretic concepts and algorithms could stem from discoveries about brain connectivity. Theories of learning could emerge from new insights about synaptic plasticity and how neural circuits self-organize and adapt in a stable manner. We also stand to gain in terms of new computing architectures, especially in learning how the brain computes with high-dimensional representations and with stochastic, low-power components.

This program was supported in part by the Kavli Foundation and the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation.



Bruno Olshausen (UC Berkeley; chair), Sophie Denève (École Normale Supérieure), Ila Fiete (University of Texas at Austin), Wolfgang Maass (Technische Universität Graz), Bartlett Mel (University of Southern California), Christos Papadimitriou (UC Berkeley), Terry Sejnowski (Salk Institute, UC San Diego), Santosh Vempala (Georgia Institute of Technology)

Long-Term Participants (including Organizers):

Dana Ballard (University of Texas at Austin), Lenore Blum (Carnegie Mellon University), Manuel Blum (Carnegie Mellon University), Kwabena Boahen (Stanford University), Kristofer Bouchard (UC Berkeley), Yoram Burak (Hebrew University of Jerusalem), Jose Carmena (UC Berkeley), Jim Crutchfield (UC Davis), Sophie Denève (École Normale Supérieure), Michael DeWeese (UC Berkeley), Abbas El Gamal (Stanford University), Ila Fiete (University of Texas at Austin), David Foster (UC Berkeley), Jack Gallant (UC Berkeley), Surya Ganguli (Stanford University), Mark Goldman (UC Davis), Mohammad Hajiaghayi (University of Maryland), Jeff Hawkins (Numenta), Andreas Herz (Ludwig-Maximilian-University Munich), Dorit Hochbaum (UC Berkeley), Pentti Kanerva (UC Berkeley), Antonina Kolokolova (Memorial University of Newfoundland), Peter Latham (University College London), Wolfgang Maass (Technische Universität Graz), Jitendra Malik (UC Berkeley), Bartlett Mel (University of Southern California), Ken Nakayama (Harvard University), Ilya Nemenman (Emory University), J. Kevin O'Regan (CNRS), Bruno Olshausen (UC Berkeley; chair), Christos Papadimitriou (UC Berkeley), Paul Rhodes (Evolved Machines), Christopher Rozell (Georgia Institute of Technology), Saeed Saremi (UC Berkeley), David Schwab (City University of New York), Terry Sejnowski (Salk Institute, UC San Diego), Peggy Seriès (University of Edinburgh), S. Murray Sherman (University of Chicago), Sara Solla (Northwestern University), Fritz Sommer (UC Berkeley), Frédéric Theunissen (UC Berkeley), Lena Ting (Emory University and Georgia Institute of Technology), Naftali Tishby (The Hebrew University), Ngoc Tran (University of Texas at Austin), Rufin VanRullen (CNRS, Toulouse), Santosh Vempala (Georgia Institute of Technology), Xiao-Jing Wang (New York University), Laurenz Wiskott (Ruhr-Universität Bochum), Fred Wolf (Max Planck Institute Göttingen)

Research Fellows:

Rishi Chaudhuri (University of Texas at Austin), Hannah Choi (University of Washington), Reza Eghbali (University of Washington), Anatoly Khina (California Institute of Technology), Kamesh Krishnamurthy (University of Pennsylvania), Emanuele Natale (Max-Planck-Institut für Informatik), Colin Sandon (Princeton University), Evelyn Tang (University of Pennsylvania)

Visiting Graduate Students and Postdocs:

Soheil Behnezhad (University of Maryland), Nadav Ben-Shushan (Hebrew University of Jerusalem), Mahsa Derakhshan (University of Maryland), Alireza Farhadi (University of Maryland), Edward Paxon Frady (UC Berkeley), Petr Jezek (UC Berkeley), Louis Kang (UC Berkeley), Spencer Kent (UC Berkeley), Tzuhsuan Ma (University of Texas at Austin), Dibyendu Mandal (UC Berkeley), Christopher Roth (University of Texas at Austin), Saeed Seddighin (University of Maryland), Jonathan Shafer (UC Berkeley), Charles Shvartsman (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), Alexander Terekhov (UC Berkeley), John Widloski (UC Berkeley), Hadi Yami (University of Maryland), Noga Zaslavsky (Hebrew University of Jerusalem)


Tuesday, Jan. 16Friday, Jan. 19, 2018


Bruno Olshausen (UC Berkeley; chair), Wolfgang Maass (Technische Universität Graz), Christos Papadimitriou (UC Berkeley), Santosh Vempala (Georgia Institute of Technology)
Monday, Feb. 12Thursday, Feb. 15, 2018


Bartlett Mel (University of Southern California; chair), Sophie Denève (École Normale Supérieure), Bruno Olshausen (UC Berkeley)
Monday, Mar. 19Thursday, Mar. 22, 2018


Fritz Sommer (UC Berkeley; chair), Terry Sejnowski (Salk Institute, UC San Diego)
Monday, Apr. 16Thursday, Apr. 19, 2018


Wolfgang Maass (Technische Universität Graz; chair), Christos Papadimitriou (UC Berkeley), S. Murray Sherman (University of Chicago)
Monday, Jun. 17Thursday, Jun. 20, 2019


Program image by Luisa Lee

Past Internal Program Activities

Friday, May 11th, 10:30 am12:00 pm
Tuesday, April 24th, 3:00 pm4:00 pm
Friday, April 20th, 2:00 pm3:30 pm
Friday, April 13th, 2:00 pm3:00 pm
Wednesday, April 11th, 10:30 am11:30 am
Tuesday, April 10th, 2:00 pm4:00 pm
Wednesday, April 4th, 10:30 am11:30 am
Wednesday, March 28th, 10:30 am11:30 am
Wednesday, March 14th, 10:30 am11:30 am
Wednesday, March 7th, 10:30 am11:30 am
Wednesday, February 28th, 10:30 am11:30 am
Wednesday, February 21st, 10:30 am11:30 am
Wednesday, February 7th, 10:30 am11:30 am
Wednesday, January 31st, 10:30 am11:30 am
Thursday, January 25th, 10:30 am11:30 am