Why Neuroscience Needs Hackers


Daniel Goodwin in Scientific American [h/t: Marko Ahtisaari]:

Science urgently needs hackers—hackers in the original, Tech Model Railroad Club of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology sense of the word. Their engineering and design skills will be useful, but what is most desirable is the true hacker's resourcefulness, curiosity and appetite for fresh challenges. Particularly in a field like neuroscience, helpers could be invaluable in exploring the daunting wilderness of newly revealed neural networks.

A few pioneers are leading the way. One is H. Sebastian Seung, a professor at the Neuroscience Institute and in the department of computer science at Princeton University. A few years ago he and his collaborators set out to map the retina's neural connections. As they collected an overwhelming mass of electron microscopy data, the question was how they would ever manage to interpret it all. Seung's familiarity with state-of-the-art computing told him that no artificial-intelligence algorithm in existence could possibly handle the task alone.

The solution—then almost unheard of in lab science—was to enlist thousands of human volunteers alongside a state-of-the art AI and harness their collective brainpower. On December 10, 2012, Seung and his team launched the online game EyeWire, in which players score points by helping to improve a neural map.

More here.