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The Computational Brain

Instructor: Dana H. Ballard

TA: Craig Corcoran

Textbook: Brain Computation as Hierarchical Abstraction, MITPress 2015(Feb)

Discussions: Piazza page

Course Overview

One of our major scientific challenges of the century is to understand the functioning of the human brain. Computational models play a vital role in a complete picture of brain function, particularly at modeling more macroscopic structures that more directly relate to our everyday behavior. The goal of this course is to describe computational models of intelligent behavior and how they relate to structures in the brain.

Students should have a mathematical background sufficient to grasp the ideas behind learning algorithms. This would include calculus and some linear algebra.

Students will write five short evaluations of scientific papers in computational brain science. Students will also review one popular science book in the area.

In addition one group lab experiment will be done and its outcomes written up in a report and presented orally.

Including a group lab report, a total of seven papers will be required, each of 1-2 pages in length. Papers must be submitted electronically in Word format using the turnin command.

The book to be evaluated is:

The text for the course will be notes written by the instructor. Electronic access for these will be given at the first day of class.

Example papers from the literature:

Negative: "Betting your life on an algorithm" Dennett

Positive:Koch & Poggio


Week Topic Assignment Best review Additional material
1/21 Introduction Slides     Writing help
American Scientist
1/25,1/27 Computation Overview NewSlides Slides Quian Quiroga et al. (2005) Paper1
Gross (2002)
Quiroga et al. (2008)
2/2,2/4 Brain Overview Slides      
2/9,2/11 Neurons slides Slides      
2/16,2/18 Cortex Slides      
2/23,2/25 Basal Ganglia   Huth, Nishimoto, Vu, Gallant (2012)    
3/2,3/4 Visual Routines        
3/9,3/11 Motor Routines RL Slides Cavanaugh
3/16 Spring Break        
3/23,3/25 Operating System        
3/30,4/1 Emotions   Rothkopf and Ballard (2012) ACT-R short ACT-R long    
4/6,4/8 Lab Week      
4/13, 4/15 Presentations I & II      
4/20, 22 Presentations III & Altruism Lab report due    
4/27,4/29 Consciousness     Mirror neurons
5/4, 5/6 Book Review        


Grades will be given on seven written reviews, plus the book review.

Grading Rubric

Emphasis during grading is given to written reviews according to the following criteria:

Submitting homework

Reviews must be written in Word or OpenOffice and submitted electronically using the CS "turnin" command:

turnin --submit leif cs378-paperN my-writeup.doc

where N is the number of the assigned writeup, e.g., paper1 for the first writeup, paper2 for the second, etc.

Re-grades will be due two weeks after we hand back your writeups. To submit your re-grade, append "-shiny" to the original homework's turnin name :

turnin --submit leif cs378-paperN-shiny writing.doc

All homework is due at midnight on Friday of the week that it is due.