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Dissecting Artificial Intelligence (AI) to Understand the Human Brain

Published: 2018-03-25 - Updated: 2022-06-28
Author: Cognitive Neuroscience Society | Contact: cogneurosociety.org

Synopsis: Cognitive neuroscientists are using emerging artificial networks to enhance understanding of one of the most elusive intelligence systems, the human brain. Using computer science to understand the human brain is a relatively new field that is expanding thanks to advancements in computing speed and power, along with neuroscience imaging tools. Artificial networks cannot yet replicate human visual abilities, but by modeling the human brain, they are furthering our understanding of cognition and artificial intelligence. The artificial neural networks serve as mini-brains that can be studied, changed, evaluated, and compared against responses given by human neural networks. Hence, cognitive neuroscientists have some ideas of how a real brain may function.

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Neural Network
A neural network is a network or circuit of biological neurons or, in a modern sense, an artificial neural network composed of artificial neurons or nodes. Thus, a neural network is either a biological neural network made up of biological neurons or an artificial neural network used for solving artificial intelligence (AI) problems. A biological neural network comprises a group of chemically connected or functionally associated neurons. Artificial intelligence, cognitive modeling, and neural networks are information processing paradigms inspired by how biological neural systems process data. Theoretical and computational neuroscience is the field concerned with the analysis and computational modeling of biological neural systems.

In the natural world, intelligence takes many forms. It could be a bat using echolocation to navigate in the dark expertly or an octopus quickly adapting its behavior to survive in the deep ocean. Likewise, multiple forms of artificial intelligence are emerging in the computer science world - different networks, each trained to excel in another task. And as will be presented today at the 25th annual meeting of the Cognitive Neuroscience Society (CNS), cognitive neuroscientists increasingly are using those emerging artificial networks to enhance their understanding of one of the most elusive intelligence systems, the human brain.

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"The fundamental questions cognitive neuroscientists and computer scientists seek to answer are similar," says Aude Oliva of MIT. "They have a complex system made of components - for one, it's called neurons, and for the other, it's called units - and we are doing experiments to determine what those components calculate."

In Oliva's work, which she is presenting at the CNS symposium, neuroscientists are learning much about the role of contextual clues in human image recognition. Using "artificial neurons" - lines of code or software - with neural network models, they can parse out the various elements that go into recognizing a specific place or object.

"The brain is a deep and complex neural network," says Nikolaus Kriegeskorte of Columbia University, who is chairing the symposium. "Neural network models are brain-inspired models that are now state-of-the-art in many artificial intelligence applications, such as computer vision."

In one recent study of more than 10 million images, Oliva and colleagues taught an artificial network to recognize 350 different places, such as a kitchen, bedroom, park, living room, etc. They expected the network to learn objects such as a bed associated with a bedroom. They didn't expect the network to learn to recognize people and animals, for example, dogs at parks and cats in living rooms.

The machine intelligence programs learn very quickly when given lots of data, enabling them to parse contextual learning at such a good level, Oliva says. While it is impossible to dissect human neurons at such a level, the computer model performing a similar task is transparent. The artificial neural networks serve as mini-brains that can be studied, changed, evaluated, and compared against responses given by human neural networks. Hence, cognitive neuroscientists have some sketches of how a real brain may function.

Complete neuron cell diagram showing dendrites, neurotransmitter and receptacle. Neurons (also known as neurones and nerve cells) are electrically excitable cells in the nervous system that process and transmit information. In vertebrate animals, neurons are the core components of the brain, spinal cord, and peripheral nerves.
Complete neuron cell diagram showing dendrites, neurotransmitters, and receptacle. Neurons (also known as neurones and nerve cells) are electrically excitable cells in the nervous system that process and transmit information. In vertebrate animals, neurons are the core components of the brain, spinal cord, and peripheral nerves.

Indeed, Kriegeskorte says that these models have helped neuroscientists understand how people can recognize the objects around them in the blink of an eye.

"This involves millions of signals emanating from the retina that sweep through a sequence of layers of neurons, extracting semantic information, for example, that we're looking at a street scene with several people and a dog," he says. "Current neural network models can perform this task using only computations that biological neurons can perform. Moreover, these neural network models can predict how a neuron deep in the brain will respond to any image."

Using computer science to understand the human brain is a relatively new field, thanks to advancements in computing speed and power and neuroscience imaging tools. The artificial networks cannot yet replicate human visual abilities, Kriegeskorte says, but by modeling the human brain, they are furthering our understanding of cognition and artificial intelligence.

"It's a uniquely exciting time to be working at the intersection of neuroscience, cognitive science, and AI," he says.

Indeed, Oliva says;

"Human cognitive and computational neuroscience is a fast-growing area of research, and knowledge about how the human brain can see, hear, feel, think, remember, and predict is mandatory to develop better diagnostic tools, to repair the brain, and to make sure it develops well."

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Dissecting Artificial Intelligence (AI) to Understand the Human Brain | Cognitive Neuroscience Society (cogneurosociety.org). Disabled World makes no warranties or representations in connection therewith. Content may have been edited for style, clarity or length.

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