New York University Skip to Content Skip to Search Skip to Navigation Skip to Sub Navigation

NYU’s Courant Institute Receives $500,000 NSF Grant to Discover the Learning Algorithm of the Brain

October 3, 2008
N-73, 2008-09

New York University’s Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences and its institutional partners-Stanford University, MIT, and the University of California, Berkeley-have each received a $500,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to study the “learning algorithm of the brain.” The four-year, $2 million project seeks to develop new computational models of how the visual system learns to recognize objects.

“How can our visual system learn to recognize object categories, such as dog, airplane, or chair by merely being shown a small number of examples of each category?” said NYU’s Yann LeCun, a professor of computer science at the Courant Institute. “This project will enhance our understanding of this process by drawing on the recent progress in a new class of machine learning methods called ‘deep belief networks,’ and through new experimental methods to study the visual cortex.”

The project’s researchers hope to uncover new mechanisms that could explain the learning process in neural circuits. These experiments, they contend, will attempt to discover what role the feedback connections in the visual cortex play during learning. Results from psychophysics, neuroscience, and computational modeling show that the rapid recognition of everyday objects can be explained by a viewing the visual cortex as a multi-layer, feed-forward system in which the neural activity propagates from the eye to the higher brain areas, with little feedback from the higher layers to the lower layers. Yet, there are as many feedback connections as feed-forward connections in the visual cortex. The researchers will seek to understand their role.

“Learning algorithms for deep belief network could constitute a good model for how the visual cortex learns because they can be applied to multi-layer architectures similar to the visual cortex, and because feedback connections play a crucial role in the learning process in these models,” LeCun noted. “A set of experiments will establish whether feedback connections in the brain play a similar role in learning.”

The grants, which come out of NSF’s Office of Emerging Frontiers in Research and Innovation (EFRI), support interdisciplinary teams will pursue transformative, fundamental research in two areas: understanding the brain and how its abilities may be used through cognitive optimization and prediction; and developing ways to make complex, interdependent infrastructure systems more resilient and sustainable.

This Press Release is in the following Topics:
Graduate School of Arts and Science, Research

Type: Press Release


Search News



NYU In the News

NYU Offers Financial Aid to Undocumented Students

The Wall Street Journal reported that NYU will begin offering scholarship aid to undocumented students for the school year beginning next September.

NYU Adopts Lean LaunchPad Program to Teach Entrepreneurship

Startup guru Steve Blank, in a Huffington Post blog, described how NYU adopted the Lean LaunchPad model to teach entrepreneurship to students and faculty at NYU.

Biology Professor Jane Carlton Examines Wastewater for the City’s Microbiome

The New York Times’ Science Times column “Well” profiled Biology Professor Jane Carlton and her research project to sequence microbiome of New York City by examining wastewater samples.

Steinhardt Professors Use a Play as Therapy

The New York Times wrote about a play written by Steinhardt Music Professor Robert Landy about the relationship between Adjunct Professor Cecilia Dintino, a clinical psychologist in the Drama Therapy Program, and a patient, former Broadway actress Jill Powell.

NYU Public Health Experts Urge Strengthening Local Health Systems to Combat Ebola

Dean Cheryl Healton of the Global Institute of Public Health and Public Health Professor Christopher Dickey wrote an op-ed in the Huffington Post saying international health agencies need to strengthen their presence in countries at the local level to prevent future ebola outbreaks.

NYU Footer