Understanding the brain through cognitive computing

IBM scientists in Israel collaborate with researchers from the Sagol School of Neuroscience to better understand how the brain works.

Top PhD students from the Sagol School of Neuroscience in Tel Aviv University will spend time working side by side with IBM researchers in Haifa, Israel to develop new computer models that offer insight into how the brain works. The program includes joint research in the areas of machine learning, data mining, and cognitive computing.

As we see more and more of the world's activity being expressed digitally, the amount of Big Data is growing at an unprecedented rate. Most of this data is unstructured in the form of video, images, symbols, or natural language. This means we need new computing models to process and make sense of it, allowing people to make smarter decisions.

IBM believes that cognitive computing – the third era of computing systems that learn and interact naturally with people to extend what either man or machine could do on their own – is the answer.

To do this, scientists must better understand how the human brain works to architect new computing paradigms that emulate the brain's efficiency. IBM researchers are using machine learning and analytics to bring computers to the next level of details in terms of understanding the concepts inside the text or the structure of the text.

“By working closely with industry leaders such as IBM, we can create a synergy that accelerates the development of new technologies in the area of brain science,” said Prof. Uri Ashery, head of Sagol School of Neuroscience. “This program offers a unique opportunity to strengthen the competence of our students by giving them hands-on experience working with the world's leading IT company.”

The first student joining this program will work with IBM researchers to build probabilistic graphic models, an approach used to develop reasoning algorithms that help explain how humans conceptualize data. The ultimate goal of the project is to gain a better understanding of dyslexia.

“By advancing research into cognitive computing and making computers more like biological systems that respond and react to what's going on around them, we can find new ways to help people make sense of all this data,” said Moshe Levinger, senior manager of Analytics and Verification at IBM Research - Haifa . “The internship program with the Sagol School of Neuroscience provides a wonderful opportunity for us to strengthen our close relationship with academia while training the next generation of cognitive computing scientists.” 

The first cognitive computer from IBM was Watson, which debuted in a televised Jeopardy! challenge in which it beat out the show’s two greatest champions. The challenge for Watson was to answer questions posed in natural language, including puns, synonyms and homonyms, slang, and jargon. Watson was able to answer the question using machine learning, statistical analysis and natural language processing. Newer generations of Watson are now being trained in cancer diagnosis to support healthcare professionals, and in customer service to help support representatives.

Just a few of the new cognitive computing projects being conceptualized at IBM Research – Haifa include research directions for more personalized education based on how people learn, studies into areas of the brain that control our emotional reactions such as anxiety and stress, and machine learning models that provide insight into mapping different electrical signals to specific regions of the brain. 

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