Home Systems biology NTT Research to Collaborate with Harvard University Researchers on Computational Neurobiology

NTT Research to Collaborate with Harvard University Researchers on Computational Neurobiology


SUNNYVALE, Calif.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–NTT Research, Inc., a division of NTT (TYO:9432), announced today that it has entered into a joint research agreement with scientists at Harvard University to study animal neuro-responses in hopes of informing future artificial intelligence systems. The five-year research project, launched in the fall of 2021, allows researchers from both organizations to collaboratively study how animals maintain behavioral flexibility, particularly in the navigation task. A better understanding of how this challenge is addressed in biology could eventually allow the design of new computing machines with similar capabilities. The principal investigator is Venkatesh Murthy, PhD, the Raymond Leo Erikson Life Sciences Professor of Molecular and Cellular Biology at Harvard, and the Paul J. Finnegan Family Director of its Center for Brain Science. Murthy’s counterpart at NTT Research for the joint project is Physics and Computer Science Laboratory (PHI) Research Scientist Gautam Reddy, PhD, who was previously an independent postdoctoral researcher at Harvard’s NSF-Simons Center for Mathematical and Statistical Analysis of Biology.

This joint research aims to better elucidate how animals retain the ability to respond appropriately to a wide variety of complex real-world scenarios. The researchers expect that the results of one aspect of the research will be a source of new biologically inspired ideas for artificial reinforcement learning systems that rely on representation learning. Such ideas have played a major role in recent advances in artificial intelligence. Results from another aspect of the research should provide a quantitative understanding of how animals follow tracks, as well as identify the building blocks of general behavioral strategies that work flexibly and reliably in the real world. Professor Murthy’s laboratory has a long experience in experimental and computational neurobiology. Expertise relevant to joint research includes the ability to record or image many individual neurons in the brain as an animal performs behavioral tasks. This technical expertise will allow the research team to understand what calculations are made by biological neural networks when an animal navigates a complex world.

“Efficient computing is at the heart of quantum computing and neuroscience. Inspired by neuroscience, recent advances in machine learning have recently begun to change the way we process data,” said PHI lab director Yoshihisa Yamamoto, PhD. “This joint research project could provide a rich source of animal-inspired algorithms that are generalizing across various research areas within NTT and inspiring truly novel cross-disciplinary ideas.”

Professor Murthy and Dr Reddy have previously worked together to understand the computational principles behind olfaction. They focused on how olfactory receptors in the nose react to mixtures of odorous compounds. As an independent researcher at Harvard’s NSF-Simons Center for Mathematical Biology, Dr. Reddy worked on the theory of how animals track scents and on the development of a computational framework to explain how evolution optimizes organisms. “I am excited to continue this research with Dr. Reddy through the NTT Research PHI Lab,” Murthy said. “The brain is an example of a highly efficient computing device, and many phenomena within it remain unexplored and unexplained. We believe that the results of these investigations in neurobiology will reveal basic knowledge and prove useful in the field of artificial intelligence.

Obtaining neuroscience insights is an integral part of the PHI lab’s strategy to redesign artificial computers. In July 2021, for example, NTT Research announced a joint research agreement with the International Research Center for Neurointelligence (IRCN) of the University of Tokyo to develop numerical tools and a simulator for the Coherent Ising Machine (CIM), an information processing platform based on networks of photonic oscillators. In October 2020, PHI Lab Director Yamamoto co-authored an article in Applied Physics Letters (APL) entitled “Coherent Ising Machines: Quantum optics and neural network perspectives”, which highlighted the interdisciplinary nature of the innovative research program of the PHI laboratory, which could lead to a new field of study.

In addition to researchers from Harvard and the University of Tokyo, researchers from eight other universities have agreed to conduct joint research with the NTT Research PHI Lab. These include California Institute of Technology (Caltech), Cornell University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Notre Dame University, Stanford University, Swinburne, University of Michigan and Tokyo Institute of Technology. NASA’s Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley and 1QBit, a private quantum computing software company, have also entered into joint research agreements with the PHI lab.

About NTT Research

NTT Research opened its offices in July 2019 as a new Silicon Valley startup to conduct fundamental research and advance technologies that drive positive change for humanity. Currently, three labs are housed at NTT Research’s facilities in Sunnyvale: the Physics and Computer Science (PHI) Lab, the Cryptography and Information Security (CIS) Lab, and the Medical Informatics and health (MEI). The organization aims to improve reality in three areas: 1) quantum information, neuroscience and photonics; 2) cryptographic and information security; and 3) medical and health informatics. NTT Research is part of NTT, a global technology and business solutions provider with an annual R&D budget of $3.6 billion.

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