Conference explores using technology to upgrade the brain

Nobel physicist Carl Wieman
Nobel physicist Carl Wieman

Stanford researchers and private sector leaders gathered for a one-day mediaX conference on campus that focused on how technology can enhance the intelligence of people.

The May 17 event at the Arrillaga Alumni Center included talks, panels and demos that delved into emerging technologies, designs and systems related to intelligence and the human experience. The conference was titled, “Augmenting Personal Intelligence.”

MARTHA RUSSELL, mediaX executive director, kicked off the event by saying, “For a smart world, we need smart people.”

NEIL JACOBSTEIN, a distinguished visiting scholar for mediaX who chairs the artificial intelligence and robotics track at Singularity University, put it this way: “The human brain hasn’t had an upgrade for 50,000 years.”

At the same time, he said, artificial intelligence is improving rapidly.

“AI is disrupting the entire landscape,” said Jacobstein, who showed examples in design, diagnosis and risk management. He noted that the field is moving from opinion-based to evidence-based decision-making. “We need better comprehension for better solutions.”

ANTHONY WAGNER, a Stanford professor of psychology and neuroscience, explained how recent advances in functional brain imaging combined with virtual reality and machine learning offer a new window onto how the brain supports memory-guided thinking and action.

“Memory is not about mental travel back in time, it’s fundamentally about reaching future goals,” Wagner said.

Another discussion reflected on how virtual reality technology initially developed at the Stanford Virtual Human Interaction Lab is helping train NFL quarterbacks. ANDREW WASSERMAN, Stanford graduate and general manager of the STRIVR company, described how 360-degree cameras can now capture the vantage point of a specific player during practice. As a result, these virtual reality views allow players to “re-experience” such practice repetitions and to more quickly make game-day decisions.

JUHO KIM, a Brown Institute Fellow at Stanford University, gave a talk about “multimedia for personal narratives.” He and MANEESH AGRAWALA, a Stanford computer science professor, are working with the Doug Engelbart Institute to design an interactive online archive of the computing pioneer’s collection. Kim is building semi-automated tools for converting the collection into a digital archive that lets users fluidly browse, skim and annotate multimedia resources.

“These tools are a way to enhance the collective intelligence,” he said.

Like building a muscle

CARL WIEMAN, a Stanford professor of physics and education as well as a Nobel winner in physics, shared recent research about understanding the teaching and learning of science at the post-secondary level.

“Developing expertise … is like building-up a muscle,” he said.

Effective teachers should be cognitive coaches, Wieman explained. They can design suitable practice tasks and provide timely guiding feedback and motivation. For him, this has the potential to dramatically improve higher education and adult learning.

Video presentations from the conference plenaries and panels will be available in about three weeks on the mediaX website.