DATE: Friday, May 30, 2014
TIME: 1:30 PM-3:00 PM
VENUE: NYU Global Center, Grand Hall
MODERATOR: Gary Marcus
PARTICIPANTS: John Donoghue, Michel M. Maharbiz, Bijan Pesaran, Rafael Yuste


The World Science Festival’s annual salon series offers in-depth conversations with leading scientists, extending the discussion of the Festival’s premiere public programs to graduate students, postdocs, faculty and well-informed members of the general public.

Imagine a world where scientists could crack the neural code underlying our visual system, create an algorithm, and transfer it to a mechanical robot enabling it to see. What if they could go further and break the codes dictating how we navigate, recognize objects, even think? As we look toward the future, our panelists speculate on how we might transfer the code of our brain to machines and ask what would it take to build a truly “thinking machine”.

This program is part of the Big Ideas series.

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Cognitive Psychologist

Gary Marcus, scientist, bestselling author, and entrepreneur, is Professor of Psychology and Neural Science at NYU and CEO and Co-Founder of the recently-formed Geometric Intelligence, Inc. His research on language, computation, artificial intelligence, and cognitive development has been published widely, in leading journals such as Science and Nature. He is also the author of four books including The Algebraic Mind, Kluge: The Haphazard Evolution of the Human Mind, and The New York Times Bestseller, Guitar Zero, and contributes frequently to the The New Yorker and The New York Times. His recent book, The Future of the Brain: Essays By The World’s Leading Neuroscientists, features the 2014 Nobel Laureates May-Britt and Edvard Moser. His efforts to update the Turing Test have spurred a worldwide movement.



Professor John Donoghue was the founding chairman of the Department of Neuroscience at Brown, a position he held for thirteen years. He is currently the director of the Brown Institute for Brain Science, which unites more than one hundred Brown faculty members to support interdisciplinary research on the nervous system. Dr. Donoghue received a Jacob Javits award from the NIH and won Germany’s Zulch Prize in 2007 for his research. He has received a number of awards related to his work on BrainGate, including 2004 Innovation Award for Neuroscience from Discover Magazine. Professor Donoghue is also a co-founder of Cyberkinetics, a startup company developing neurotechnologies for humans with paralysis and nervous system injuries. He has served on panels for the NIH, NSF, NASA and other federal agencies and is a Fellow of the American Institute for Medical and Biomedical Engineering.

Electrical Engineer, Computer Scientist

Michel Maharbiz is one of the inventors of neural dust, a low-power solution for chronic brain-machine interfaces and untethered neural recording. He also developed the world’s first remotely radio-controlled cyborg insects (beetles), a project named one of the top ten emerging technologies of 2009 by MIT’s Technology Review. Maharbiz is an associate professor with the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at the University of California, Berkeley. His current research focuses on building nanoscopic interfaces with cells and organisms. He is a Bakar Fellow and co-founder of Tweedle Technologies, Cortera Neurotech, and Microreactor Technologies.

Bijan Pesaran_200px

Bijan Pesaran is an associate professor with the Center for Neural Science at New York University. Work in his lab seeks to understand and engineer the brain. He has pioneered the study of how populations of neurons communicate to guide behavior. Pesaran has also invented a novel brain-machine interface that uses the activity of small groups of neurons to decode intentions and other cognitive processes. He is the recipient of several awards including a Sloan Research Fellowship, the McKnight Scholar Award, and the NSF CAREER Award. Current research is funded by grants from the NIH, NSF, DARPA, and private foundations.

Rafael Yuste

Rafael Yuste isprofessor of biological sciences and neuroscience at Columbia University. He was born in Madrid, where he obtained his M.D. at the Universidad Autónoma. After a brief period in Sydney Brenner’s laboratory in Cambridge, UK, he performed Ph.D. studies with Larry Katz in Torsten Wiesel’s laboratory at Rockefeller University and was a postdoctoral student of David Tank at Bell Labs. In1996,Yuste joined the department of biological sciences at Columbia University. In 2005, he became HHMI investigator and co-director of the Kavli Institute for Brain Circuits at Columbia. He has pioneered the application of optical imaging techniques to study the structure and function of the cerebral cortex. He recently helped launched the BRAIN Initiative, an large-scale scientific project to systematically record and manipulate the activity of complete neural circuits.Rafael Yuste has obtained many awards, including the NYC Mayor’s Young Investigator Award.