The New Yorker:
On Monday, the National Institutes of Health released a fifty-eight-page report on the future of neuroscience—the first substantive step in developing President Obama’s BRAIN Initiative, which seeks to “revolutionize our understanding of the human mind and uncover new ways to treat, prevent, and cure brain disorders like Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia, autism, epilepsy, and traumatic brain injury.” Assembled by an advisory panel of fifteen scientists led by Cori Bargmann, of Rockefeller University, and William Newsome, of Stanford, the report assesses the state of neuroscience and offers a vision for the field’s future.
Perhaps the least compelling aspect of the report is one of its justifications for why we should invest in neuroscience in the first place: “The BRAIN Initiative is likely to have practical economic benefits in the areas of artificial intelligence and ‘smart’ machines.” This seems unrealistic in the short- and perhaps even medium-term: we still know too little about the brain’s logical processes to mine them for intelligent machines. At least for now, advances in artificial intelligence tend to come from computer science (driven by its longstanding interest in practical tools for efficient information processing), and occasionally from psychology and linguistics (for their insights into the dynamics of thought and language). Only rarely do advances come from neuroscience. That may change someday, but it could take decades.
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