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January 24, 2014

Speaker: Dr. Terry Stewart, Centre for Theoretical Neuroscience, Waterloo University

Title: Spaun: The World's First Simulated Brain Capable of Performing Cognitive Tasks

Abstract: Large-scale computer models of the brain have been getting a more and more advanced.  The Blue Brain project has modelled cortical columns at an unprecedented level of detail, and the IBM SyNAPSE project recently ran a model with 100 billion neurons (the same number as is found in the human brain).  In 2013, the EU Human Brain Project and the US BRAIN Initiative were announced, pledging billions of dollars to address the question of how billions of interacting neurons can result in human behaviour.  At the Centre for Theoretical Neuroscience at the University of Waterloo, we have made the first step in this direction by building Spaun, a computational model with 2.5 million neurons, 60 billion synapses, 30 brain areas, a single eye, and a single arm.  It is capable of performing eight different tasks, including digit recognition, mental addition, recall of lists of numbers, and pattern completion.  While other models have more neurons, or have more detailed neurons, ours is the first to show complex realistic behaviour.  This model allows us to test theories of brain function in a more rigorous manner, and it also provides a novel framework for thinking about massively parallel computing.