"PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA—While artificial intelligence (AI) has been busy trouncing humans at Go and spawning eerily personable Alexas, some neuroscientists have harbored a different hope: that the types of algorithms driving those technologies can also yield some insight into the squishy, wet computers in our skulls. At the Conference on Cognitive Computational Neuroscience here this month, researchers presented new tools for comparing data from living brains with readouts from computational models known as deep neural networks. Such comparisons might offer up new hypotheses about how humans process sights and sounds, understand language, or navigate the world.
“People have fantasized about that since the 1980s,” says Josh McDermott, a computational neuroscientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge. Until recently, AI couldn’t come close to human performance on tasks such as recognizing sounds or classifying images. But deep neural networks, loosely inspired by the brain, have logged increasingly impressive performances, especially on visual tasks. That “brings the question back to mind,” says neuroscientist Chris Baker of the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, Maryland.
Deep neural networks work by passing information between computational “nodes” that are arranged in successive layers. The systems hone skills on huge sets of data; for networks that classify images, that usually means collections of labeled photos. Performance improves with feedback as the systems repeatedly adjust the strengths of the connections between nodes..."
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