Brad Feld

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Is Your Brain Analog, Digital, or Both?

Oct 09, 2006
Category Investments

A long time ago (high school, college?) I remember reading a Scientific American magazine cover to cover that was about the brain (blue cover – picture of the brain on it.)  While I don’t remember anything that I read (and – whatever it was – it’s probably irrelevant today), I was completely fascinated by it.

When I was at MIT in the mid-1980’s, “Artificial Intelligence” was the rage.  Cognitive Science (which has morphed into Brain and Cognitive Science) was also picking up speed at the time as MIT had a great collection of people thinking about neuroscience, biology, and psychology.  For whatever reason, I never engaged in it, and my interest ended up being a simple surface level fascination that I never went anywhere with.

Several years ago, my first business partner – Dave Jilk – started talking about some amazing research about how the brain works that was going on at CU Boulder by a guy named Randy O’Reilly.  Dave and Randy started a company called eCortex earlier this year.  I’m an investor and regularly talk to Dave about it when we get together – I understand very little of the underlying technology, but love the problem they are going after.

Randy just published an article in the 10/6/06 Science titled Biologically Based Computational Models of High-Level Cognition.  Our friends at the Daily Camera summarized it nicely – the brain is both analog and digital and O’Reilly – who is a product of the analog school of thought – suggests that “scientists trying to model the brain would be best served incorporating both schemes.”

If you are into this type of stuff, O’Reilly and eCortex should definitely be on your watch list.