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Cox Lecture: "Where Computer Science Meets Neuroscience"

Oct 6
11 a.m.
Lopata Hall, Room 101

Leslie Valiant, T. Jefferson Coolidge Professor of Computer Science and Applied Mathematics, Harvard University will present the annual Cox Distinguished Lecture "Where Computer Science Meets Neuroscience."

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"Where Computer Science Meets Neuroscience"

For some problems in science there are several plausible theories and it remains to experimenters to resolve among them. There exist other problems for which, in contrast, no known theory is widely accepted as plausible. Currently computational neuroscience is a field full of opportunity that offers several fundamental problems of the latter kind. We shall discuss one of these problems: Over a lifetime the brain performs hundreds of thousands of individual cognitive acts, of a variety of kinds, including the formation of new associations. Each such act depends on past experience, and, in turn, can have long lasting effects on future behavior. It is difficult to reconcile such large scale capabilities, including fast reaction times on new inputs when using knowledge acquired at various earlier times, with the known resource constraints on cortex, such as low connectivity and low average synaptic strength. Here we shall describe an approach to this fundamental problem that attempts to explain these phenomena in terms of concrete algorithms for a model of computation that is faithful to the most basic quantitative resources.


Leslie Valiant was educated at King’s College, Cambridge; Imperial College, London; and at Warwick University where he received his Ph.D. in computer science in 1974. He is currently T. Jefferson Coolidge Professor of Computer Science and Applied Mathematics in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences at Harvard University, where he has taught since 1982. Before coming to Harvard he had taught at Carnegie Mellon University, Leeds University, and the University of Edinburgh.

His work has ranged over several areas of theoretical computer science, particularly complexity theory, learning, and parallel computation. He also has interests in computational neuroscience, evolution and artificial intelligence and is the author of two books, Circuits of the Mind, and Probably Approximately Correct. 

He received the Nevanlinna Prize at the International Congress of Mathematicians in 1986, the Knuth Award in 1997, the European Association for Theoretical Computer Science EATCS Award in 2008, and the 2010 A. M. Turing Award. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society (London) and a member of the National Academy of Sciences (USA).

About Jerome R. Cox, Jr.

Jerome Cox joined Washington University’s faculty in 1955 and has since contributed significantly to the areas of biomedical computing, multimedia communications and computer networking. The integrating theme of his research has been the application of advanced technology to practical biomedical problems. His pioneering work in radiation treatment planning paved the way for systems in worldwide operation. His research team developed computer methods for reconstructing images from CT and PET scanners that aid in the diagnosis of cancers and cardiovascular disease. His innovations were instrumental in developing early monitors for heart rhythm disturbances. He also has worked on computer applications in mapping the human genome and in electronic radiology. In the 1970s, Cox became the founding chairman of the School of Engineering & Applied Science’s Department of Computer Science and guided the department’s development and growth for more than 15 years. Cox was instrumental in building a department that has an international reputation for biomedical computing applications and computer networking. With two colleagues, he founded Growth Networks, a company acquired by Cisco that produced an advanced networking chip set, and, in 2007, he started a new company, Blendics (Blended Integrated Circuit Systems), that provides systemon-chip design tools and services to companies that wish to develop complex, proprietary, low-power integrated circuits. Cox earned bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in electrical engineering from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is a member of the National Academy of Science’s Institute of Medicine and a fellow of the Acoustical Society of America and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. The Harold B. and Adelaide G. Welge Professor of Computer Science at Washington University from 1989-1998, he was awarded the honorary doctor of science in 2001. His honors also include the 2011 Chancellor’s Award for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, which he received along with Jonathan Turner, the inaugural Barbara J. and Jerome R. Cox, Jr. Professor of Computer Science. That same year he was recognized with the School of Engineering & Applied Science’s Dean’s Award. 

Organizer: Tammy Haney,