EWeek What Interests Me: Reverse Engineering the Brain

Emily Viterbi Life 0 Comments

It’s finally EWeek! EWeek is the Engineering Week at USC, with activities planned throughout the week for engineers specifically. It’s a lot of fun and there’s a lot that goes on to highlight the cool things that people are doing or trying to do, with the week ending with the fan favorite Viterbi Ball (kind of like Viterbi does prom, complete with a Viterbi King and a Viterbi Queen). My favorite announcement is that Viterbi is collaborating with producers to award $5,000 to five different individuals to develop TV scripts about female engineers. Not only does it highlight women in engineering, but it also allows young, undiscovered writers to develop their ideas with professionals (and if they’re engineers as well as writers, all the better!).

EWeek is also a time for the things that we do in engineering or the things that we want to do in engineering to be highlighted. One of the engineering problems that I’ve been fascinated about since I first heard about it is reverse engineering the brain. As a native Seattleite, I knew about Paul Allen’s development of the Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle. But he’s not the only one looking into reverse engineering the brain.

If you don’t know (I certainly didn’t before I came to USC!) reverse engineering is the examination of the composition of a product or technology and the attempt to reproduce it. Reverse engineering the brain, is the analysis of the human brain and the attempt to completely understand its structure, function, and mechanisms, and then the attempt to recreate it in its entirety or partially (say for memory loss in conditions such as Alzheimer’s or dementia, or for loss of motor refinement in Parkinson’s Disease). The brain is basically a really complex, advanced organic computer. Much like a computer, the brain stores information (what we call memory, though our memory is greater than your average computer), solves problems, takes input, creates output, etc.

Reverse engineering the brain can allow us to not only better computer technology by modeling its mechanisms after the brain (if applicable) but it can also allow us to better neurological health as we gain the ability to incorporate technology into the brains of individuals who have some loss of function due to disease or injury.

It’s a field rich in possibilities that explores so much and could potentially allow us to learn some of the natural science behind consciousness. It’s a field that’s beyond cool and one where I hope to be able to further myself!

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