To this day, neuroscientists are having a hard time studying that bizarre and mysterious world inside our head. It might therefore come as a surprise to most, that the world outside is starting to look more and more like the grey web of electric activity and neural networks driving our thoughts and behavior. From social media to video games, our understanding of the brain has inspired a new age of AI, machine learning, and natural language processing that have made their way into our everyday lives.


The brain as inspiration

The human brain is considered the most complex object in the known universe, so it is only normal this lump between our ears would have us scratch our heads. Yet the tremendous scientific discoveries of the last century have revealed to us the ingenuity of the nervous system. The brain consists of billions of interconnected neurons that transmit electrochemical signals. These grey cells connect to each other and communicate, adapting how they respond to new input based on past experiences.

The remarkable characteristics and performance of the brain have inspired for the past few decades solutions to overcome the limitations of classical computers. Now, new technological advances are allowing the implementation of more and more principles adopted straight from cognitive neuroscience. Today’s algorithms increasingly imitate the behavior of our own mind, enabling the technology we use every day without even realizing we are the very model on which it was built.


Artificial neural networks: learning about humans, like humans

The very basis of brain-inspired technology rests in artificial neural networks, or ANN. These algorithms are organized in layers and hierarchies that identify patterns, predict outcomes, and improve accuracy by self-programming, similar to how neurons in the brain modify their connections. This technology stands at the heart of Machine Learning and its complex variant Deep Learning, which learns from data and makes decisions with minimal human intervention. One of the pioneers of Deep Learning and winner of the Turing Award, Geoffrey Hinton was fascinated with the brain. Despite the skepticism of fellow scholars, he believed computers could be modeled after its neural structure. Among its many applications, this innovation drives the success behind commuting. If you ever used Uber, you have enjoyed the wonders of Machine Learning: predicting how long it will take rides to arrive and where the customer should wait, and setting prices.

Even after your ride has brought you back from work, artificial neural networks will be waiting at home. As you kick back and turn on Netflix, ANN helps the recommendation engine use your past viewing history to deliver suggestions for what you might want to watch based on an array of parameters, such as genres and actors.

This is true also for the army of algorithms interacting with you when you are on social media. Machine learning decides which advertisements are to be shown to which audience by identifying their preferences and personality. Above all, deep learning collects, organizes, and analyzes data from millions of users, 24/7, like a tireless robot-librarian.


Natural Language Processing: communicating with us, like us

Besides learning and adapting, brain-inspired technology offers unprecedented abilities in computers’ use of human language. Natural Language Processing is what computers and smartphones use to understand spoken and written language. Deep neural networks learn the complex and erratic human language. NLP is all around us, whether in translation softwares like Google Translate, predictive texting in our phones, or search engines. But there are some initiatives that really extend NLP’s capacity to answer human needs. For example, Livox is a communication device for people with disabilities, able to interact and help interact in twenty-five languages. In another domain, making use of vision science is SignAll, a software that analyzes and translates sign language.


Artificial Intelligence: thinking and behaving like us.

Artificial intelligence represents the epitome of computing technology. With the help of Deep Learning and ANN, AI tries to simulate human intelligence and behavior, and to enable machines to perform tasks associated with intelligent humans. To achieve this, applying brain-inspired principles is key. While this invokes futuristic images, computers endowed with AI already keep us company. For example, AI is ubiquitously used in customer service. Companies like Moveworks offer a HR interface that utilizes artificial intelligence and deep learning systems to improve employees support.

While customer service AI need not be all too complex, another application of AI takes computer-human interaction to the next level. Virtual assistants have been on the rise, such as Google Now, Apple’s Siri, and Amazon’s Alexa. The more we use them, the more these artificial celebs adapt and improve, offering the user a tailor-cut experience. Alexa adapts to her user’s accent, voice, and speech patterns, while Cortana is up for a little chat.

Another voice behind which you did not expect an artificial mind inhabits video games. This sector is increasingly implementing AI to make characters and monsters not just look alive, but actually learn and modify their behavior. For example, in Shadow of Mordor, an action-adventure game, non-player characters controlled by the computer have memories of past interactions with players and their objectives.

The smart future

The more we know about the brain, the more biological tricks we eagerly try on our artificial creations. Future AI will integrate neurocognitive principles like fuzzy logic, which recognizes more than simple true and false values — it takes into account concepts that are relative, like somewhat, sometimes, and usually. Besides the algorithm, the hardware could be modified as well. Neuromorphic computing mimics neuro-biological architectures in electronic chips, increasing the processing efficiency and decreasing the energy consumption.

It is no surprise then that future innovation would grow even bolder. Smart homes could become a basic commodity, and the tech giants are already working on it: Facebook’s Jarvis and Google Home will have us literally talking to our walls. Not just our homes, but our vehicles too will be endowed with artificial intelligence. Self-driving cars could very much dominate the roads, minimizing traffic and perhaps even accidents. Google’s automated car and Tesla’s autopilot feature offer us a glimpse into this smarter tomorrow.


Humanity was always in love with itself; at least the power of brain-inspired technology somewhat justifies that feeling. Artificial neural networks, natural language processing, and artificial intelligence are becoming part of our everyday reality. Sooner or later, brains will inhabit houses, cars, cities and human-like robots.