Engineering of Mind to Enhance Human Productivity

James S. Albus, National Institute ofStandards and Technology

We have only just entered an era in history in which technology is making it possible to seriously address scientific questions regarding the nature of mind. Prior to about 125 years ago, inquiry into the nature of mind was confined to the realm of philosophy. During the first half of the 20th century, the study of mind expanded to include neuroanatomy, behavioral psychology, and psychoanalysis. The last fifty years have witnessed an explosion of knowledge in neuroscience and computational theory. The 1990s, in particular, produced an enormous expansion of understanding of the molecular and cellular processes that enable computation in the neural substrate, and more is being learned, at a faster rate, than almost anyone can comprehend:

• Research on mental disease and drug therapy has led to a wealth of knowledge about the role of various chemical transmitters in the mechanisms of neurotransmission.

• Single-cell recordings of neural responses to different kinds of stimuli have shown much about how sensory information is processed and muscles are controlled.

• The technology of brain imaging is now making it possible to visually observe where and when specific computational functions are performed in the brain.

• Researchers can literally see patterns of neural activity that reveal how computational modules work together during the complex phenomena of sensory processing, world modeling, value judgment, and behavior generation.

• It has become possible to visualize what neuronal modules in the brain are active when people are thinking about specific things, and to observe abnormalities that can be directly related to clinical symptoms (Carter 1998).

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