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Alexandre Pouget to receive Andrew Carnegie Prize in Mind and Brain Sciences

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Carnegie Mellon University will award the fourth annual Andrew Carnegie Prize in Mind and Brain Sciences to Alexandre Pouget, professor of basic neuroscience at the University of Geneva. Pouget, a renowned expert in neural coding and spatial representations, has revolutionized using uncertainty to explain how the brain functions based on statistical principles.

The Carnegie Prize, given by the Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition (CNBC) and funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, recognizes trailblazers in the mind and brain sciences whose research has helped advance the field and its applications. The CNBC will present the award to Pouget at 4 p.m., Wednesday, May 11, in the Rashid Auditorium in CMU's Hillman Center for Future-Generation Technologies.

"Every time we try to explain what is going on, we are offering a theory, and when we label a scientific effort 'theoretical,' we mean that mathematics has been used somehow to make the theory precise. Alex Pouget is an international leader in theoretical neuroscience, consistently providing elegant and illuminating explanations of brain activity and its relation to animal or human behavior," said Robert E. Kass, interim CNBC co-director and CMU professor of statistics and machine learning. "He was an obvious choice for the Carnegie Prize, and we are very pleased he agreed to give this lecture."

At the University of Geneva, Pouget leads the computational cognitive neuroscience laboratory. His research focuses on general theories of representation and computation in neural circuits, with a strong emphasis on neural theories of probabilistic inference.

His work is built on the idea that knowledge in the brain takes the form of probability distributions and that new knowledge is acquired by probabilistic inference. He is applying this framework, which allows for robust computations in the presence of uncertainty — something that is found in almost all real-world computations — to a wide range of topics, such as simple arithmetic, decision-making, causal reasoning, perceptual learning, sensory motor transformations and others.

As part of the award ceremony, Pouget will present a talk on "The Probabilistic Brain" and will discuss how the brain learns and implements inference with a particular kind of neural code known as probabilistic population codes.

"I'm incredibly honored to be receiving the Carnegie Prize and also particularly excited to see this prize awarded to a theoretician. Theory is the next frontier in neuroscience and one we have to conquer if we are to bridge the gap between the brain and the mind. I thank the selection committee for sharing this vision," Pouget said.

Previous recipients of the Carnegie Prize are MIT's Ed Boyden, Novartis Institute for Biomedical Research's Ricardo Dolmetsch and the National Institute of Health's Leslie Ungerleider.

The CNBC, a collaborative research center between CMU and the University of Pittsburgh focused on neuroscience, has helped establish Carnegie Mellon and the Pittsburgh scientific community as a world leader in brain and behavioral sciences. At CMU, the CNBC is administered by the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences.

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