Senior QBI neuroscientists work on thinking robot

28 Jul 2006

Four of the Queensland Brain Institute’s most senior scientists have been selected to work on an international research collaboration that seeks to better understand the fundamental processes behind human thinking and vision.

Jointly funded by the Australian Research Council (ARC) and the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), the $3.3m 'Thinking Systems' project brings together specialists in neuroscience, artificial intelligence, robotics and computer science.

The group will study how humans and other animals navigate, how trajectories through space are used to build maps, the neural bases of these mapping processes and how to use maps to achieve goals.

QBI scientists working on 'Thinking Systems' include Professor Perry Bartlett, Professor Jason Mattingley, Professor Pankaj Sah and Associate Professor Geoffrey Goodhill.

Cognitive scientist Professor Janet Wiles from UQ’s School of Information Technology and Electrical Engineering will lead the team.

The UQ team will study the navigation skills of bees, rodents and humans as a way of understanding the function of the hippocampus, the part of the brain that controls navigation.

Professor Wiles said results from the research would later be transferred into computer models to map ideas.

“One thing that makes us special as humans is that we might be using this part of the brain not just to map physical space, which we do very effectively, but also to map the space of ideas,” Professor Wiles said.

“Suppose you want Hansard records — you've got gigabytes of information and what you want is a summary of who spoke on which issue in a particular debate. You can either spend three months reading the document or you can create a map of who spoke and the relationships between it.”

She said her team would use the models to make a thinking robot that could find its way to a given point and navigate back again.

The research will also generate new insights into the diagnosis and treatment of mental dysfunctions.

“The study will look at how information is transmitted, received, processed and understood in biological and artificial systems,” she said.

Professor David Siddle, UQ's Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) said he was delighted such an imaginative program of research had been funded.

“The work represented in this proposal is truly inter-disciplinary and this is where significant scientific advances are now being made,” Professor Siddle said.

Professor Wiles is from the Division of Complex & Intelligent Systems with UQ's School of Information Technology & Electrical Engineering.


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Notes to the Editor
The Queensland Brain Institute was formed in 2003 as part of the Queensland Government’s Smart State Initiative, building on a long history of neuroscience at The University of Queensland. QBI is dedicated to understanding the molecular basis of brain function and applying this knowledge to the development of new therapeutics to treat brain and mental health disorders.