New faculty spotlight: Blake Richards

"We want to use what we learn from the brain to inform new AI systems that have capabilities that machines lack."

 

Blake Richards is an assistant professor in The Neuro and the School of Computer Science at McGill University.  He was the 2019 Canadian Association for Neuroscience Young Investigator Award Recipient, and one of 29 Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR) Canada AI Chairs announced in 2018.

 

What will your lab be researching?

My lab is a mix of AI and neuroscience, and our research focus is two fold. We want to better understand the brain using models derived from machine learning, models that capture how our brains make decisions and learns. The other is to use AI to analyze neuroscience data to extract signals from experimental data that would otherwise be hard to extract.

We want to use what we learn from the brain to inform new AI systems that have capabilities that machines lack.

 

Why did you decide to come to The Neuro?

A few different factors brought me here. The Neuro has a number of researchers that do the systems neuroscience we want to do. Having a core network of people in this field is a real draw.

I knew there was going to be a library of people here working in AI and neuroscience, but there would also be support and great events related with this type of work. Montreal itself has become a real centre for AI and that adds to its existing leadership in neuroscience. The Montreal ecosystem is a great place to be if you're at the intersection of AI and neuroscience like I am.

 

What do you think of The Neuro’s open science initiative?

I'm really committed to open science. My plan is to have my core publications out of my lab made open access, and to work on open science initiatives. I want to interact with more OS datasets. We're collecting tons of data, and figuring out how to leverage those data sets is going to be key. With the advances in machine learning, opening up the data could lead to really meaningful findings.

 

How is Montreal treating you so far?

It's wonderful. We've been here for two months now. My family really love it here. The quality of life in Montreal is fantastic. The parks and restaurants and terraces are full of people day and night. There are constantly fun events going on. It makes it a wonderful place to be and to raise a family.

Blake:

My lab is a research laboratory that does work at the intersection of artificial intelligence and neuroscience. We're interested in understanding what we call the general principles of intelligence.

The idea is that there are general principles for any agent that wants to try to act and behave in an intelligent manner in the world and that these principles apply equally to natural intelligence and artificial intelligence.

The hope is that if we can come to understand these general principles of intelligence it will help us both understand the operations of the brain and why it works the way it does and also help us to build better artificial intelligence.

That belief in the potential for really uncovering the nature of our intelligence by merging these bottom-up and top-down approaches is I think what drives my research forward.

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The Neuro is a McGill research and teaching institute; delivering high quality patient care, as part of the Neuroscience Mission of the McGill University Health Centre. We are proud to be a Killam Institution, supported by the Killam Trusts.

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