A RULE OF THUMB THAT UNSCRAMBLES THE BRAIN

October 6, 2000

SCIENCE & ENGINEERING NEWS

New York, N.Y. — Sandra Blakeslee reports that a new breed of animal, dubbed the “sand mouse,” has been added to the annals of biological science, and it has become the subject of a scientific challenge.

Last week Dr. John J. Hopfield, a Princeton professor known for seminal discoveries in computer science, biology and physics, posed an unusual test to his fellow scientists.

Dr. Hopfield challenged them to discover a simple, new computational principle – a general rule of thumb – for how the brain of this creature works, using only the power of deductive reasoning and a set of facts about the animal that Dr. Hopfield and a former student, Dr. Carlos Brody, have posted on a Web site ( http://shadrach.cns.nyu.edu/ ~carlos/Organism/ ).

Dr. Hopfield said enough information was given about the animal so that any scientist who was willing to “think really deeply about the system” could discover the principle independently.

While the exercise describes the animal in realistic terms, including experiments to anesthetize it and take electrical recordings from its brain, the creature is actually a simulation composed of 660 artificial cells that behave exactly like real brain cells. That is, in computer calculations the cells fire signals at certain rates, connect in conventional ways, squirt out familiar chemicals and behave just like real brain cells do.

Moreover, the simulations show that these ordinary cells have acquired the ability to recognize the word “one” spoken by many different voices under noisy conditions – something that the human brain can do with ease but machines still cannot.

The new computational principle, says Dr. Hopfield, explains how the animal, called mus silicium or sand mouse, accomplishes this task. Dr. Hopfield boldly claims that the new principle may shed light on how the human brain works. Using the Web site, scientists can even do their own experiments with the sand mouse, according to the authors.

Those who take up the challenge have until Dec. 1 either to explain how the sand mouse recognizes the word “one” or to take the same number of neurons and use the new principle to make the mouse acquire a novel behavior, Dr. Hopfield said. Cash prizes will be awarded.

A paper revealing the new principle will be published on Dec. 14. Thus far, only Dr. Hopfield and Dr. Brody, a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for Neural Science at New York University, have figured out the answer.

In telephone interviews, each coyly said that scientists would not be disappointed by the discovery.

Asked why he did not just publish his findings in a scientific journal now, Dr. Hopfield said, “I could have, but I think it’s time to open a discussion on the role of deductive reasoning in neurobiology.”

The challenge in any complex problem is to figure out what is or is not relevant, he said. Because that is hard to do, neuroscientists tend to keep on collecting data or to hypothesize that there are as yet undiscovered cell properties that, once found, will solve the problem, rather than thinking hard about what they already know.

“Data gathering is getting out of hand,” Dr. Hopfield said. The challenge is to get scientists to start thinking deductively based on what is already known, he said.

“Very few scientists could pull this off,” said Dr. Christof Koch, a neuroscientist at the California Institute of Technology. “But John Hopfield is a leader in neural computation. His playful challenge is wonderful. Scientists love to compete. I think he’ll get a big response.”

Dr. Zachary Mainen, an assistant professor at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, in New York, who has seen the challenge, said: “Whether it’s a stunt or a lesson is going to depend on how the answer plays out. It has certainly sparked a bit of discussion.”

Because Dr. Hopfield has not published a paper in the normal way, it is not possible to judge the significance of his discovery, said Dr. Terrence J. Sejnowski, a neuroscientist at the Salk Institute in San Diego, Calif.

“But he has another goal in mind, namely an advertising gimmick,” Dr. Sejnowski said. “How can you get someone to read your paper? You offer a prize. A lot more people will pay attention to it this way. But it’s also a good object lesson to ask experimentalists to go beneath their data and develop a theoretical understanding of what they’re doing.”

While the brain is nothing like a digital computer, much of what it does can be described as computation, Dr. Brody said.

Associating two memories, commanding muscles to move or identifying odors are all computations in which nerve cells play the role of the on-off switches in computers.

To mimic, and perhaps understand, these behaviors, scientists build computer models of networks of brain cells, known as neural networks, using computational principles inspired by real brains.

For example, real cells add up arriving signals until they reach some threshold and then fire – a principle that can be described mathematically.

Dr. Hopfield said that he was particularly interested in the kinds of computations that occurred over time. The brain deals with a world that is constantly in motion, he said. “You see a friend walking toward you from 50 yards away,” Dr. Hopfield said. “If he’s standing still you might not recognize him but if he’s moving, you know who it is from the way he walks. Or touch a piece of velvet. You may not know what it is until you run your fingers across it.”

Such percepts require a few tenths of a second for the brain to recognize them, Dr. Hopfield said. The brain is constantly integrating information over time, but science does not know how that feat is done. To study the problem, Dr. Hopfield taught his neural network (the sand mouse) a spoken word, “one.”

Language also unfolds over time, he said. Words can be broken down into small units that have no inherent meaning, but when these units are held and combined over fractions of a second or more they become comprehensible.

It was in thinking deeply about how the brain did this that “the penny dropped,” as Dr. Hopfield put it.

Suddenly, Dr. Hopfield realized that the brain – or at least the sand mouse brain – uses a “novel, simple, powerful, plausible” computational principle for dealing with time delays.

He said the finding was not immediately applicable to speech recognition devices, which now surpass what the sand mouse can do. Rather, it sheds light on how a nervous system manipulates information over time, speech being one such problem.

Last spring, Dr. Hopfield dared Dr. Brody to discover the principle using the same challenge that is now on the Web site.

“I had to use a way of thinking that felt very different from what I normally use,” Dr. Brody said. “I never would have thought I had been given enough information, but it turned out that the data were enough to guide me ineluctably to the right answer.”

============================================================

Subscribe to HPCwire's Weekly Update!

Be the most informed person in the room! Stay ahead of the tech trends with industy updates delivered to you every week!

Supercomputers Streamline Prediction of Dangerous Arrhythmia

June 2, 2020

Heart arrhythmia can prove deadly, contributing to the hundreds of thousands of deaths from cardiac arrest in the U.S. every year. Unfortunately, many of those arrhythmia are induced as side effects from various medicati Read more…

By Staff report

Indiana University to Deploy Jetstream 2 Cloud with AMD, Nvidia Technology

June 2, 2020

Indiana University has been awarded a $10 million NSF grant to build ‘Jetstream 2,’ a cloud computing system that will provide 8 aggregate petaflops of computing capability in support of data analysis and AI workload Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

10nm, 7nm, 5nm…. Should the Chip Nanometer Metric Be Replaced?

June 1, 2020

The biggest cool factor in server chips is the nanometer. AMD beating Intel to a CPU built on a 7nm process node* – with 5nm and 3nm on the way – has been instrumental to AMD’s datacenter market resurgence. Nanomet Read more…

By Doug Black

Supercomputer-Powered Protein Simulations Approach Lab Accuracy

June 1, 2020

Protein simulations have dominated the supercomputing conversation of late as supercomputers around the world race to simulate the viral proteins of COVID-19 as accurately as possible and simulate potential bindings in t Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

HPC Career Notes: June 2020 Edition

June 1, 2020

In this monthly feature, we'll keep you up-to-date on the latest career developments for individuals in the high-performance computing community. Whether it's a promotion, new company hire, or even an accolade, we've got Read more…

By Mariana Iriarte

AWS Solution Channel

Computational Fluid Dynamics on AWS

Over the past 30 years Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) has grown to become a key part of many engineering design processes. From aircraft design to modelling the blood flow in our bodies, the ability to understand the behaviour of fluids has enabled countless innovations and improved the time to market for many products. Read more…

Supercomputer Modeling Shows How COVID-19 Spreads Through Populations

May 30, 2020

As many states begin to loosen the lockdowns and stay-at-home orders that have forced most Americans inside for the past two months, researchers are poring over the data, looking for signs of the dreaded second peak of t Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Indiana University to Deploy Jetstream 2 Cloud with AMD, Nvidia Technology

June 2, 2020

Indiana University has been awarded a $10 million NSF grant to build ‘Jetstream 2,’ a cloud computing system that will provide 8 aggregate petaflops of comp Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

10nm, 7nm, 5nm…. Should the Chip Nanometer Metric Be Replaced?

June 1, 2020

The biggest cool factor in server chips is the nanometer. AMD beating Intel to a CPU built on a 7nm process node* – with 5nm and 3nm on the way – has been i Read more…

By Doug Black

COVID-19 HPC Consortium Expands to Europe, Reports on Research Projects

May 28, 2020

The COVID-19 HPC Consortium, a public-private effort delivering free access to HPC processing for scientists pursuing coronavirus research – some utilizing AI Read more…

By Doug Black

$100B Plan Submitted for Massive Remake and Expansion of NSF

May 27, 2020

Legislation to reshape, expand - and rename - the National Science Foundation has been submitted in both the U.S. House and Senate. The proposal, which seems to Read more…

By John Russell

IBM Boosts Deep Learning Accuracy on Memristive Chips

May 27, 2020

IBM researchers have taken another step towards making in-memory computing based on phase change (PCM) memory devices a reality. Papers in Nature and Frontiers Read more…

By John Russell

Hats Over Hearts: Remembering Rich Brueckner

May 26, 2020

HPCwire and all of the Tabor Communications family are saddened by last week’s passing of Rich Brueckner. He was the ever-optimistic man in the Red Hat presiding over the InsideHPC media portfolio for the past decade and a constant presence at HPC’s most important events. Read more…

Nvidia Q1 Earnings Top Expectations, Datacenter Revenue Breaks $1B

May 22, 2020

Nvidia’s seemingly endless roll continued in the first quarter with the company announcing blockbuster earnings that exceeded Wall Street expectations. Nvidia Read more…

By Doug Black

Microsoft’s Massive AI Supercomputer on Azure: 285k CPU Cores, 10k GPUs

May 20, 2020

Microsoft has unveiled a supercomputing monster – among the world’s five most powerful, according to the company – aimed at what is known in scientific an Read more…

By Doug Black

Supercomputer Modeling Tests How COVID-19 Spreads in Grocery Stores

April 8, 2020

In the COVID-19 era, many people are treating simple activities like getting gas or groceries with caution as they try to heed social distancing mandates and protect their own health. Still, significant uncertainty surrounds the relative risk of different activities, and conflicting information is prevalent. A team of Finnish researchers set out to address some of these uncertainties by... Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

[email protected] Turns Its Massive Crowdsourced Computer Network Against COVID-19

March 16, 2020

For gamers, fighting against a global crisis is usually pure fantasy – but now, it’s looking more like a reality. As supercomputers around the world spin up Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

[email protected] Rallies a Legion of Computers Against the Coronavirus

March 24, 2020

Last week, we highlighted [email protected], a massive, crowdsourced computer network that has turned its resources against the coronavirus pandemic sweeping the globe – but [email protected] isn’t the only game in town. The internet is buzzing with crowdsourced computing... Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Global Supercomputing Is Mobilizing Against COVID-19

March 12, 2020

Tech has been taking some heavy losses from the coronavirus pandemic. Global supply chains have been disrupted, virtually every major tech conference taking place over the next few months has been canceled... Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Supercomputer Simulations Reveal the Fate of the Neanderthals

May 25, 2020

For hundreds of thousands of years, neanderthals roamed the planet, eventually (almost 50,000 years ago) giving way to homo sapiens, which quickly became the do Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

DoE Expands on Role of COVID-19 Supercomputing Consortium

March 25, 2020

After announcing the launch of the COVID-19 High Performance Computing Consortium on Sunday, the Department of Energy yesterday provided more details on its sco Read more…

By John Russell

Steve Scott Lays Out HPE-Cray Blended Product Roadmap

March 11, 2020

Last week, the day before the El Capitan processor disclosures were made at HPE's new headquarters in San Jose, Steve Scott (CTO for HPC & AI at HPE, and former Cray CTO) was on-hand at the Rice Oil & Gas HPC conference in Houston. He was there to discuss the HPE-Cray transition and blended roadmap, as well as his favorite topic, Cray's eighth-gen networking technology, Slingshot. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Honeywell’s Big Bet on Trapped Ion Quantum Computing

April 7, 2020

Honeywell doesn’t spring to mind when thinking of quantum computing pioneers, but a decade ago the high-tech conglomerate better known for its control systems waded deliberately into the then calmer quantum computing (QC) waters. Fast forward to March when Honeywell announced plans to introduce an ion trap-based quantum computer whose ‘performance’ would... Read more…

By John Russell

Leading Solution Providers

SC 2019 Virtual Booth Video Tour

AMD
AMD
ASROCK RACK
ASROCK RACK
AWS
AWS
CEJN
CJEN
CRAY
CRAY
DDN
DDN
DELL EMC
DELL EMC
IBM
IBM
MELLANOX
MELLANOX
ONE STOP SYSTEMS
ONE STOP SYSTEMS
PANASAS
PANASAS
SIX NINES IT
SIX NINES IT
VERNE GLOBAL
VERNE GLOBAL
WEKAIO
WEKAIO

Contributors

Tech Conferences Are Being Canceled Due to Coronavirus

March 3, 2020

Several conferences scheduled to take place in the coming weeks, including Nvidia’s GPU Technology Conference (GTC) and the Strata Data + AI conference, have Read more…

By Alex Woodie

Exascale Watch: El Capitan Will Use AMD CPUs & GPUs to Reach 2 Exaflops

March 4, 2020

HPE and its collaborators reported today that El Capitan, the forthcoming exascale supercomputer to be sited at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and serve Read more…

By John Russell

‘Billion Molecules Against COVID-19’ Challenge to Launch with Massive Supercomputing Support

April 22, 2020

Around the world, supercomputing centers have spun up and opened their doors for COVID-19 research in what may be the most unified supercomputing effort in hist Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Cray to Provide NOAA with Two AMD-Powered Supercomputers

February 24, 2020

The United States’ National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) last week announced plans for a major refresh of its operational weather forecasting supercomputers, part of a 10-year, $505.2 million program, which will secure two HPE-Cray systems for NOAA’s National Weather Service to be fielded later this year and put into production in early 2022. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

15 Slides on Programming Aurora and Exascale Systems

May 7, 2020

Sometime in 2021, Aurora, the first planned U.S. exascale system, is scheduled to be fired up at Argonne National Laboratory. Cray (now HPE) and Intel are the k Read more…

By John Russell

Summit Supercomputer is Already Making its Mark on Science

September 20, 2018

Summit, now the fastest supercomputer in the world, is quickly making its mark in science – five of the six finalists just announced for the prestigious 2018 Read more…

By John Russell

Fujitsu A64FX Supercomputer to Be Deployed at Nagoya University This Summer

February 3, 2020

Japanese tech giant Fujitsu announced today that it will supply Nagoya University Information Technology Center with the first commercial supercomputer powered Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Australian Researchers Break All-Time Internet Speed Record

May 26, 2020

If you’ve been stuck at home for the last few months, you’ve probably become more attuned to the quality (or lack thereof) of your internet connection. Even Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

  • arrow
  • Click Here for More Headlines
  • arrow
Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!
Share This