Triangle Computer Science Distinguished Lecturer Series

A Computer Scientist Thinks About the Brain

Speaker:Christos Papadimitriou
Date: Monday, March 6, 2017
Time: 4:00pm - 5:00pm
Location: D106 LSRC, Duke
Light snacks will be served beginning @ 3:45pm.


When key problems in science are revisited from the computational viewpoint, occasionally unexpected progress results. There is a reason for this: Implicit algorithmic processes are present in the great objects of scientific inquiry - the cell, the brain, the market - as well as in the models developed by scientists over the centuries for studying them. This unexpected power of computational ideas, sometimes called "the algorithmic lens", has manifested itself in these past few decades in virtually all sciences: natural, life, or social for example, in statistical physics through the study of phase transitions in terms of the convergence of Markov chain-Monte Carlo algorithms, and in quantum mechanics through quantum computing. This talk will focus on three other instances. Almost a decade ago, ideas and methodologies from computational complexity revealed a subtle conceptual flaw in the solution concept of Nash equilibrium, which lies at the foundations of modern economic thought. In the study of evolution, a new understanding of century-old questions has been achieved through surprisingly algorithmic ideas. Finally, current work in theoretical neuroscience suggests that the algorithmic point of view may be useful in the central scientific question of our era, namely understanding how behavior and cognition emerge from the structure and activity of neurons and synapses.


Christos H. Papadimitriou is the C. Lester Hogan Professor of Computer Science at UC Berkeley. Before joining Berkeley in 1996, he taught at Harvard, MIT, NTU Athens, Stanford, and UCSD. He has written five textbooks and many articles on algorithms and complexity, and their applications to optimization, databases, control, AI, robotics, economics and game theory, the Internet, evolution, and the brain. He holds a PhD from Princeton, and eight honorary doctorates. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences of the US, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the National Academy of Engineering, and in 2013 the president of Greece named him commander of the order of the phoenix. He has also written three novels: "Turing", "Logicomix" (with Apostolos Doxiadis) and "Independence" (in Greek).

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