NTT Research announces gift to Harvard Center for Brain Science to support research in Physics of Intelligence

April 11, 2024


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The field of Artificial Intelligence (AI) is built using neural networks that mimic the neural pathways in our own brains. Yet despite the powerful capabilities of current AI technology, its software can’t yet be classed as being independently intelligent. 

Further, the issue of hallucinations and black box phenomenons highlights the stark gap between the exciting results AI is able to deliver and our understanding of why computational models have reached a given outcome. This is also true with the human condition, when neurodegenerative conditions strike with unpredictable impacts on the behavior of patients.

Understanding these anomalies will be central to advancing our fundamental understanding of intelligence as a concept. This work is of such rising importance that a new field of study is forming, with the ‘Physics of Intelligence’ bridging the gap between computer science, brain science and physics to better understand the universal mathematical principles that form intelligence.

Now, this emerging field of study is set to receive a boost through the creation of an ambitious new fellowship program

Fellowships for the Physics of Intelligence  

The NTT Research Foundation announced this week a gift to establish the Harvard University Center for Brain Science (CBS)-NTT Fellowship Program to support the research into the physics of intelligence.

The two-year gift, renewable for up to three more years, will create a fund to support post-doctoral research in the physics of intelligence, an emerging field that uses physics to tackle fundamental questions in intelligence, bridging computer science, neuroscience and psychology.

If renewed, the donation could total over $1.7 million. 

Harvard University will have full control over the administration of the fund, which is set to be used to support two post-doctoral researchers, including support for technology, facilities, travel, and guest speakers for seminars.

Although the Fellowship Program is newly established, Harvard CBS and the NTT Research Physics & Informatics Lab have been collaborating on similar themes since 2021 under a joint research agreement since 2024. The new program will amplify themes that emerged from shared research into natural and artificial intelligence. 

Physicists and AI researchers from the PHI Lab’s Intelligent Systems Group, led by Hidenori Tanaka, who is also a CBS associate, have established fruitful alliances with neuroscientists and psychologists at Harvard.

“We are thrilled to support the Harvard Center for Brain Science at the dawn of the Physics of Intelligence,” NTT Research President and CEO Kazuhiro Gomi said. “As history teaches us, inventions – consider the steam engine, electricity, liquid crystals – can lead to new fields in physics.”

“Today, AI is playing that role and giving us an opportunity to explore fundamental questions involving the science of intelligence, as well as address some urgent practical problems, like the need for computational systems that are unbiased, trustworthy and green. We believe this gift will advance those shared goals,” added the executive.

A fundamental understanding of intelligence 

The Harvard CBS is pursuing an ambitious mission. Scientists affiliated with the Harvard CBS study the structure and function of neural circuits, the computations that govern thought and behavior and how these circuits and patterns develop and vary. 

Said Harvard CBS Director Murthy, “We’re grateful to the NTT Research Foundation for this generous gift, which comes on top of several years of unique intellectual contributions and collaboration. The Harvard CBS looks forward to developing ideas around the Physics of Intelligence through fellowships, seminars, talks and other activities that both enhance and align with our diverse approach to neuroscience.”

Shaping this ongoing academic cross-pollination is the dramatic rise of powerful AI, which provides a new subject of study for the science of intelligence.

“The interdisciplinary environment at Harvard’s Center for Brain Science has been crucial in nurturing this emerging field, which harnesses physics-based approaches to investigate foundational questions about intelligence,” PHI Lab Scientist and Harvard CBS Associate Tanaka said. “By conducting quantitative experiments and theoretical modeling involving AI systems, which are more accessible to testing and measurement than the human brain, we aim to uncover the universal mathematical principles that underlie intelligence in all its forms, both natural and artificial.” 

In addition to its work on the CIM and initiatives in neuroscience, the PHI Lab is engaged in groundbreaking research into quasi-particles and non-linear optical materials. The PHI Lab also has a JRA with the NASA Ames Research Center.

NTT Research opened its offices in July 2019 as a new Silicon Valley startup to conduct basic research and advance technologies that promote positive change for humankind.

This article includes a partner of an Espacio portfolio company


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