Events Fall 2021

Theoretically Speaking — Deep Nets and the Primate Visual System

Oct 18, 2021 11:30 am – 1:00 pm 

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Anil Ananthaswamy (Simons Institute, moderator)

Panelists: James DiCarlo (MIT), Grace Lindsay (University College London), Jitendra Malik (UC Berkeley), and Santosh Vempala (Georgia Tech)


Calvin Lab auditorium and Zoom webinar (video available below)

The primate visual cortex is one of the best studied parts of the primate brain. Insights gained from studies of biological vision led to great advances in AI, particularly in the development of convolutional neural networks for image recognition. Now, such artificial neural networks are repaying their debt to neuroscience. Computational models built using deep neural networks are beginning to illuminate the workings of the primate visual system. This panel, comprised of experts in the field, will discuss and debate the strengths and limitations of using deep net-based models to understand biological vision.

Anil Ananthaswamy (moderator) is an award-winning journalist, former staff writer and deputy news editor for the London based New Scientist magazine, and 2019-20 MIT Knight Science Journalism Fellow. He has been a guest editor for the science writing program at the University of California, Santa Cruz. He is a freelance feature editor for the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science’s Front Matter. He contributes regularly to the Quanta Magazine, Scientific American, Knowable Magazine and New Scientist, and has also written for Nature, Discover, Nautilus, Aeon, The Wall Street Journal and the UK’s Literary Review. His first book, The Edge of Physics, was voted book of the year in 2010 by Physics World, and his second book, The Man Who Wasn’t There, won a Nautilus Book Award in 2015 and was longlisted for the 2016 Pen/E. O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award. His latest popular science book on quantum mechanics, Through Two Doors at Once (August 2018), was named one of Forbes's 2018 Best Books on Astronomy, Physics and Mathematics.

James DiCarlo is a computational neuroscientist and professor at the department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at MIT, and investigator at the McGovern Institute, MIT. He’s also the Director of MIT Quest for Intelligence, whose mission is to understand human intelligence in engineering terms and to use this understanding to build smarter machines to benefit society. Professor DiCarlo’s research is focused on understanding the neuronal representations and computational mechanisms that underlie visual object recognition in primates.

Grace Lindsay is a Sainsbury Wellcome Centre/Gatsby Computational Neuroscience Unit Research Fellow at University College London. Dr. Lindsay received her PhD at the Center for Theoretical Neuroscience at Columbia University. She works on building functional and interpretable models of sensory processing. She is the author of a recent popular science book, Models of the Mind: How physics, engineering and mathematics have shaped our understanding of the brain, about how and why we use mathematics to understand the brain.

Jitendra Malik is the Arthur J. Chick Professor of EECS at the University of California at Berkeley. Professor Malik's research group works on computer vision, computational modeling of human vision, computer graphics and the analysis of biological images. Besides many other awards, Professor Malik is the recipient of the 2016 ACM-AAAI Allen Newell Award, the 2018 IJCAI Award for Research Excellence in AI, and the 2019 IEEE Computer Society Computer Pioneer Award. He is a fellow of the IEEE and the ACM. He is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and the National Academy of Sciences, and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Santosh Vempala is the Frederick G. Storey Chair in Computing and Professor at Georgia Tech. He helped set up the Algorithms and Randomness Center and ThinkTank at Georgia Tech, serving as its first director (2006–2011). Professor Vempala's research interests include algorithms, randomness, geometry and computing-for-good (C4G). He is a Sloan, Guggenheim, and ACM Fellow. In recent years, Professor Vempala has been trying to understand how the brain works and how to model its computational abilities.

Theoretically Speaking is a lecture series highlighting exciting advances in theoretical computer science for a broad general audience. Events are free and open to the public. No special background is assumed. All speakers will be presenting remotely. The lecture will be viewable in Calvin Lab auditorium and via Zoom webinar. Registration is required. Please use the Zoom Q&A feature to ask questions. This lecture will be livestreamed and may be viewable thereafter on this page and on our YouTube channel.

Given current public health directives from state, local, and university authorities, all participants in Simons Institute events must be prepared to demonstrate proof of full vaccination: a vaccination card or photo of the card along with a valid photo ID, or a green Campus Access Badge via the UC Berkeley Mobile app (additional details regarding proof of vaccination can be found here). Masks are required indoors for all participants regardless of vaccination status.

Light refreshments will be provided before the lecture. Please note due to current health conditions, we will set up just outside the building. There will be signs to direct you. Please note there is no food or drink allowed in the auditorium. Thank you for helping us keep the auditorium clean.

If you require accommodation for communication, please contact our access coordinator at simonsevents [at] with as much advance notice as possible.