Turing centenary: Is the brain a good model for machine intelligence?

Alan Turing looked to the human brain as the prototype for intelligence. If he were alive today, he would surely be working at the intersection of natural and artificial intelligence. Yet to date, artificial intelligence (AI) researchers have mostly ignored the brain as a source of algorithmic ideas. Although in Turing’s time we lacked the means to look inside this biological ‘black box’, we now have a host of tools, from functional magnetic resonance imaging to optogenetics, with which to do so. Neuroscience has two key contributions to make towards progress in AI. First, the many structures being discovered in the brain — such as grid cells used for navigation, or hierarchical cell layers for vision processing — may inspire new computer model. He abstracted the actions of a human ‘computer’ using paper and pencil to perform a calculation (as the word meant then) into a formalized machine, manipulating symbols on an infinite paper tape. But there is a worry that his version of computation, based on functions of integers, is limited. Biological systems clearly differ. They must respond to varied stimuli over long periods of time; those responses in turn alter their environment and subsequent stimuli. The individual behaviours of social insects, for example, are affected by the structure of the home they build and the behaviour of their siblings within it. Nevertheless, for 70 years, those people working in what is now called computational neuroscience have assumed that the brain is a computer — a machine that is Is the brain a good model for machine intelligence?