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NSF Funds New Learning Center

The Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences has received a $3 million grant from the National Science Foundation to link high-performance computing to an interdisciplinary, computational investigation of how learning works in people and could work in computers.

MIT, one of six institutions nationwide to receive the NSF award aimed at developing new technologies for the next century, will use the grant to set up a new Center for Biological and Computational Learning in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, in Building E25, replacing the former Center for Biological Information Processing.

Professor Robert C. Berwick and Professor Tomasso A. Poggio, who spearheaded MIT's grant effort, will be the co-directors of the Center. Dr. Berwick is professor of computer science and engineering and computational linguistics in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences and the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. Dr. Poggio is Helen and Uncas Whitaker Professor of Vision Sciences and Biophysics in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences.

Emilio Bizzi, MD, the Eugene McDermott Professor in the Brain Sciences and Human Behavior, who heads the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, said the creation of the new center, "represents another step forward in making MIT a world-leading center in linking biology, neuroscience, cognitive science, and artificial intelligence." Also strengthening the department's work in this effort during the previously announced US and European focus on the "Decade of the Brain," Dr. Bizzi said, are the McDonnell-Pew program in Cognitive Neuroscience and a special NSF linguistics,brain and cognitive science Research Training Grant.

The Center will bring together researchers from the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy and representatives of leading parallel computer manufacturers such as Thinking Machines, Inc.

The Center's researchers view learning as the key to understanding intelligence and developing "intelligent computers."

"Learning runs all the way from the molecular level, where new results in molecular biology are beginning to tell us how certain molecules are involved in short- and long-term changes in the brain, to the level of populations of neurons, to new mathematical results in optimization theory that can be used to understand higher-level abilities such as face recognition and language acquisition," Professor Berwick and Professor Poggio said.

The new Center will develop joint projects that look at learning from a system perspective that links the neurophysiology of learning with its computational, mathematical, and conceptual components in motor control, vision, speech and language.

A version of this article appeared in the October 28, 1992 issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume 37, Number 11).

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