• Priyanka Mathikshara

My first step into Computational Neuroscience...

Updated: Nov 8, 2020

As an EECS science undergrad, I spent most of my time understanding how computers were built, how they work, and how to make them smart. In this process, I also learned something very unintentional, "How naive a modern computer was....". However, on the other side of the spectrum, a single, very average human brain was more powerful than the superlatives of all computers - the Super Computer [1].

Super pumped by the specs of the best computer available on earth, the EECS engineer in me started reading up on neuroscience, hoping to gain some inspiration from mother nature's Von Neumann machine. Eventually (and ironically), I learned that the human brain, as cool as it may be, indeed is super fragile and least understood.

To quote Prof. Jeff W. Lichtman,

If everything we need to know about the brain is a mile, we have walked 3 inches.

As I perused the surface of google scholar and EdX [2] a few revelations totally altered my perspective of technology, engineering, science, and indeed humanity. A human being is defined by his/her brain.

It's the globally unique identifier of the entity we so call "person"- that's it!.

For almost 4000 years, until the 6th century BC, civilized humankind had been assuming that the world was flat - How naive right...!?. Analogously (and sadly), I realized that even today we assume a lot of similar facts - the non-existence of immortality, transhumanism, etc. If we observe carefully, these are some problems/hypotheses that are very much pertinent to the brain. A unique combination of the world's most powerful machine - the Brain, with a dynamic, robust, and programmable machine - the Computer, might help us - humankind, unleash dimensions we weren't aware of.

Just to be clear, it is not quite about singularity or AI and humans fusing with each other or another sci-fi Hollywood situation, it's rather leaning towards pushing the boundaries of mankind. When penicillin was first invented, when prosthetics became a reality, when AI was able to understand protein folds, humankind's boundary was pushed by a small delta.

I strongly felt brain-inspired computing or computer augmented human brain might possibly be one way we could push the boundary a little bit further.

Realizing the potential dynamism and impact of computational neuroscience, I couldn't resist but explore ways in which I could contribute. Not quite yet aware of the value proposition of the field to my career or personal life, mere excitement, and some systematic mid-term plans have been fueling me so far (quite well) :D

I am mildly glad that I was offered a deferral for my graduate studies (due to the ongoing pandemic). The break I took post interning with Google has been really fruitful. I am very glad to be joining Dr. Leanne M Williams PanLab at Stanford University and Dr. Sliman Bensmaia's lab at the University of Chicago, to work on research topics in computational neuroscience and explore the field before I get on campus. I am also super excited to be a part of Xapiens - MIT, and Carboncopies, two super dynamic groups that vehemently support and think along the lines of whole brain emulation and transhumanism.


The graphics represent a combination of the digital signal symbolizing a computing device and the hemodynamic signal symbolizing the brain to potentially form a life that could tend to infinity.




Most of the opinion stated above is my personal point of view on the topic and is just a brief on why I chose to work on computational neuroscience out of the blue (it wasn't quite out of the blue tho).

If you have any feedback or thoughts do write to, I'd love to discuss :D

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