McClelland Receives Heineken Prize


James L. “Jay” McClelland Photo credit: Linda A. Cicero

The Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW) presented the $200,000 C.L. de Carvalho-Heineken Prize for Cognitive Sciences to James L. (“Jay”) McClelland on October 2, 2014, in Amsterdam. McClelland is Lucie Stern Professor in the Social Sciences and Director of the Center for Mind, Brain, and Computation at Stanford University. He is a past recipient of the APS William James Fellow Award.

McClelland received the Heineken Prize in recognition of his work modeling cognitive processes with neural networks, a departure from earlier models that described the brain in terms of a computer processor that stores and retrieves information. In 1986, McClelland and his colleagues published a now seminal work that defined and elaborated the concept of “parallel distributed processing” (PDP), which described the brain as a constantly changing biological system based on communication and connections among nerve cells.

Unlike previous models of the brain, PDP models account for the brain’s ability to make numerous calculations simultaneously, strengthening or weakening specific connections to facilitate learning. Rather than being stored in one location, PDP models conceptualize information as being represented by the total state of a neural network.

PDP models, and the associated mathematical principles developed by McClelland and his collaborators, are highly influential tools for today’s cognitive scientists.

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