We're a little crazy, about science!

Secrets of the human brain unlocked… sort of


Human intelligence is being defined and measured for the first time ever. Researchers have been recently undertaken to quantify the brain’s dynamic functions, and identify how different parts of the brain interact with each other at different times – namely, to discover how intellect works.

The team found that the more variable a brain is, and the more its different parts frequently connect with each other, the higher a person’s IQ and creativity are.

More accurate understanding of human intelligence could lead to future developments in artificial intelligence (AI). Currently, AI systems do not process the variability and adaptability that is vital to the human brain for growth and learning. This discovery of dynamic functions inside the brain could be applied to the construction of advanced artificial neural networks for computers, with the ability to learn, grow and adapt.

This study may also have implications for a deeper understanding of another largely misunderstood field: mental health. Altered patterns of variability were observed in the brain’s default network with schizophrenia, autism and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) patients. Knowing the root cause of mental health defects brings scientists exponentially closer to treating and preventing them in the future.

Using resting-state MRI analysis on thousands of people’s brains around the world, the research has found that the areas of the brain which are associated with learning and development show high levels of variability, meaning that they change their neural connections with other parts of the brain more frequently, over a matter of minutes or seconds. On the other hand, regions of the brain which aren’t associated with intelligence – the visual, auditory, and sensory-motor areas – show small variability and adaptability.

“Human intelligence is a widely and hotly debated topic and only recently have advanced brain imaging techniques, such as those used in our current study, given us the opportunity to gain sufficient insights to resolve this and inform developments in artificial intelligence.”

“It also helps establish the basis for understanding and diagnosis of debilitating human mental disorders such as schizophrenia and depression,” said Professor Jianfeng Feng, head researcher.

While the study is obviously a step in the right direction in the quest to unravel the secrets of the human brain, findings of the study are somewhat tentative and more research needs to be done. Because IQ is not a good measure for intelligence — despite it’s popularity for such — it’s hard to believe that the team found more than a casual link between IQ and the plasticity of regions associated with intelligence.

Nevertheless, any large scale, well controlled, and well documented study adds to the amount of data brain researchers have to pull from — that is always a good thing. Speaking of which, this totally happened and offers 30 terabytes of data (yeah it’s huge) to comb through from mouse brains. Interested in creating your own mouse AI? This might give you the information you need to do just that…

Zhang, J., Cheng, W., Liu, Z., Zhang, K., Lei, X., Yao, Y., Becker, B., Liu, Y., Kendrick, K., Lu, G., & Feng, J. (2016). Neural, electrophysiological and anatomical basis of brain-network variability and its characteristic changes in mental disorders Brain DOI: 10.1093/brain/aww143

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