Plumbing the Depths of Neural Nets [MIT Spectrum]

Tomaso Poggio, the Eugene McDermott Professor of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, and director of the Center for Brains, Minds, and Machines. Photo: Jason Grow
January 1, 2018

"On a quest to demystify deep learning, Tomaso Poggio glimpses tantalizing implications for human intelligence

Talk to neuroscientist Tomaso Poggio for any length of time, and you’re likely to learn more than one unexpected fact about brains, minds, or machines. Like, for example, the fact that the size of a fruit fly’s brain—when the number of neurons are plotted logarithmically—lies almost exactly halfway between the human brain and no brain at all. “When I started my scientific career, I studied the brain of the fly,” says Poggio. Nowadays, investigating that space between “brain” and “no brain” is what drives Poggio, the Eugene McDermott Professor of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, as he directs the Center for Brains, Minds, and Machines (CBMM), a multi-institutional collaboration headquartered at MIT’s McGovern Institute for Brain Research.

CBMM’s mission, in Poggio’s words, is no less than “understanding the problem of intelligence—not only the engineering problem of building an intelligent machine, but the scientific problem of what intelligence is, how our brain works and how it creates the mind.” To Poggio, whose multidisciplinary background also includes physics, mathematics, and computer science, the question of how intelligence mysteriously arises out of certain arrangements of matter and not others “is not only one of the great problems in science, like the origin of the universe—it’s actually the greatest of all, because it means understanding the very tool we use to understand everything else: our mind.”...

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