Advances in neuroscience could help coders design better artificial intelligence systems

Brain-inspired AI system to be developed by Harvard researchers

Neuroscientists and computer engineers from Harvard University have partnered to push boundaries of artificial intelligence (AI) another step further.

In a $28m (£19m) project, supported by the US Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Agency, the researchers will try to advance the understanding of the brain’s functions and then apply this to develop better performing AI systems.

“The goal is to move the needle on machine intelligence,” said David Cox, a researcher at Harvard who will lead the project. “We really want some paradigm shift — something that’s much closer to how neurons work.”

Having received one of the most generous grants in the field, the Harvard researchers enlisted help of their colleagues from other prominent US universities such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), New York University, Rockefeller University, Notre Dame and the University of Chicago.

The team hopes the outcome of the five year project will lead to more efficient systems for spotting patterns in large amounts of data. Such algorithms are necessary for many futuristic applications including self-driving cars and cutting-edge medical diagnostics.

According to Cox, the timing of the project is not accidental. Recent years have seen huge advancements in the understanding of how the brain works thanks to sophisticated imaging technology. Coders can now harness this knowledge to create better performing computer programs.

“We’re at a much better position to do this massive science expedition,” Cox said. “I think we will see a transformation in how every corner of our civilisation works in the next 50 years. And the thing that will drive this is intelligent machines.”

One of the projects carried out under the grant will focus on mapping how neurons fire in a mouse brain. Researchers have already started this work, analysing a miniature part of the animal’s brain, but would now like to expand the area to something the size of a mustard seed.

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