Machine Learning to Model the Brain

Sebastien Wong 17 May 2017 4 minute read
Machine Learning to Model the Brain

My parents, hoping to encourage a career in medicine, gave me a book on the human body for my sixth birthday.

This was just after the release of the original Starwars movie and the book used robots as an analogy to describe the functions of the body. I remember the picture of the brain being a computer and connected to the sensory inputs through wires.

Unbeknownst to them, my parents had started me down the path of becoming an engineer and computer scientist, with the goal of building a computer system that could see and interpret the world like a human. I did become a doctor, just not the kind that they intended.

Today I’m leading a multi-disciplinary team competing in the IBM Watson AI XPRIZE.  The goal of team Consilium is to unlock some of the mysteries of the human brain, in particular the visual cortex, using the tools of Machine Learning and Computational Neuroscience.

The IBM Watson AI XPRIZE is a global competition challenging teams to develop powerful Artificial Intelligence (AI) based applications and demonstrate how humans can collaborate with AIs to tackle the world’s grand challenges. Team Consilium is headquartered in Adelaide, South Australia and is one of 147 teams from 21 countries competing for the $5M prize purse.

Consilium is partnering with the University of South Australia and sponsoring PhD candidate Samya Bagchi, under the supervision of A/Prof Mark McDonnell who is a world expert in computational neuroscience.

Dr Sebastien Wong

Dr Sebastien Wong (Director of Machine Learning, Consilium)

Understanding the human brain and mind has been called the last frontier of science. Our approach to tackling this grand challenge will be to model specific elements of the brain and its processes using modern data-driven Machine Learning techniques. True understanding of the brain and mind will bring benefits to humanity in a wide range of areas including mental health, learning and education, human-machine interfaces and better AI.  I am particularly interested in the benefits of better AI.  This won’t be an overt revolution as depicted in popular culture, but a quiet evolution as the computing devices and services that are part of our everyday lives become better at communicating, interpreting, and anticipating the needs of humans.

Dr Dale Ward

Dr Dale Ward (Data Scientist)

To integrate AI into society we need to develop a better understanding of how we think, learn and interact.  For this project, we are using AI to better understand the human brain and how thoughts are formed, and in turn using those insights to build better AI.  Thus, creating a symbiotic relationship between human and AI.

Associate Professor Mark McDonnell

Assoc. Prof. Mark McDonnell (Computational Neuroscientist, University of South Australia)

We are continually learning more about the brain and its function, but much remains unknown. The recent success of modern machine learning methods offer a new tool to unlock the secrets of neurobiological learning, and ultimately feed into treatments for disorders ranging from epilepsy to Alzeimer’s disease.


Samya Bagchi

Samya Bagchi (PhD Candidate, University of South Australia)

Pursuing the IBM AI-XPrize Challenge along with the PhD is a great platform for me to investigate the algorithmic properties of the neural structure in the neocortex, which is the root of intelligence, while applying the theoretical inventions to applications that can benefit humanity.


Seth Thuraisingham

Seth Thuraisingham (Chief Executive Officer, Consilium)

Participating in the AI XPrize will have intangible commercial benefits to Consilium. The competition will continue to build our relationship with the University of South Australia, develop techniques to better understand the human brain, and continue to accelerate our position as a global leader in Artificial Intelligence.


For more information about the IBM Watson AI XPRIZE, visit


XPRIZE, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, is the global leader in designing and implementing innovative competition models to solve the world’s grandest challenges. XPRIZE utilizes a unique combination of gamification, crowd-sourcing, incentive prize theory, and exponential technologies as a formula to make 10x (vs. 10%) impact in the grand challenge domains facing our world. XPRIZE’s philosophy is that—under the right circumstances— igniting rapid experimentation from a variety of diverse lenses is the most efficient and effective method to driving exponential impact and solutions to grand challenges. Active competitions include the $30M Google Lunar XPRIZE, the $20M NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE, the $15M Global Learning XPRIZE, the $10M Qualcomm Tricorder XPRIZE, the $7M Shell Ocean Discovery XPRIZE, the $7M Barbara Bush Foundation Adult Literacy XPRIZE, the $5M IBM Watson AI XPRIZE, the $1.75M Water Abundance XPRIZE and the $1M Anu & Naveen Jain Women’s Safety XPRIZE. For more information, visit

Photo Credit
Main article image from Judy Hindley’s book “How Your Body Works”, illustrated by Colin King.