Coming up next week, we are holding the third in a series of excellent evening talks sponsored by our Computational Neuroscience Center about neuroscience and/or AI and their impact on society, featuring thinkers from the broader spheres of philosophy and anthropology: Lawrence Weschler on the late neurologist Oliver Sacks.
Our previous speakers were philosopher Patricia Churchland, on the biological basis of conscience, and Genevieve Bell, of the Australian National University, on the need for socially aware design principles for AI.
The Allen Institute has produced this charming film about this year’s Dynamic Brain workshop. With appearances from lab members Kenneth Latimer, Anatoly Buchin and visiting scholar Chaoqing Wang!
Some of the lab– Swartz fellow Anatoly Buchin and visiting scholar Chaoqing Wang– and I are just back from two weeks at Friday Harbor Labs participating in the third run of the Allen Workshop on the Dynamic Brain. This gets better every year as the data sets and pedagogical tools improve. It was a blast. Read more about it here.
The study of the brain has immeasurable benefits for the satisfaction of our most profound questions about the nature of life and of our own humanity and for continued improvements in health and well-being. Progress in these goals is only possible through experimental science. Despite the many advances that have been assisted by computational analysis, our understanding of this incredibly complex system is still very preliminary. The computational neuroscience community unequivocally supports the need for continued careful, humane, monitored animal research. The recent news that Nikos Logothetis, a giant in the study of visual processing in primates, has closed down primate work in his lab under pressure from animal liberation activists is a tragedy for the field. Dr Logothetis’ work has been fundamental in establishing direct links between the signals measured noninvasively through fMRI and the underlying neural signals, advancing the scientific value of fMRI as a tool. Dr Logothetis’ lab has been a model of excellence in the housing and care of experimental animals. An open letter to support Dr Logothetis can be found here.
This past week, the neuroscience community lost a great scientist, and role model and advocate for women in science, Allison Doupe, to cancer. As a professor at the University of California San Francisco, Allison’s research focused on mechanisms of auditory coding, vocal production and learning in birdsong. Her elegant and groundbreaking papers and seminars infected many researchers with the excitement and promise of birdsong as a fascinating system in its own right and as a model for language and motor skill learning. Allison was also a highly regarded practicing psychiatrist, specializing in the effects of hormones on female brains. At the Keck Center at UCSF, as a leader at the vibrant UCSF Sloan-Swartz Center, and through her Woods Hole lectures, Allison was responsible for inspiring many junior theorists with the amazing opportunities that labs like hers offered for collaborative and analytical approaches to neuroscience. She was a mentor to many who did not directly work with her; an anxious speaker needed only to spot her bright, warm smile in the audience to find calm and confidence. Her brilliant intellect, insight, warm encouragement and optimism will be sorely missed by all who were fortunate to interact with her. Allison leaves behind her husband, Michael Brainard, also a prominent birdsong researcher, and her young twins, Alec and Sam.
The schedule for the 2014 Sloan-Swartz meeting, to be co-hosted on the UW campus by the UW Comp Neuro Program and the Allen Institute for Brain Science, is now on-line. It should be an excellent meeting. Locals may now register to attend, although numbers may be limited.
Bill Gates has just declared this week as Mosquito Week, pointing out that the mosquito is the cause of the most human deaths per year of any creature on earth, even exceeding us. In our lab, in collaboration with Jeff Riffell and Michael Dickinson in the Department of Biology, we are working to understand the neural and computational mechanisms that enable mosquitoes to find their prey using joint signals from the heat and carbon dioxide that we exude. This problem is an especially fun one for theorists: because of turbulent transport, the source signals are complex and time-varying, with interesting statistical properties; and the two signals interact in nontrivial ways, as Leslie Vosshall’s lab has recently shown. Here’s the beautiful graphic from Bill’s blog posting.