EECS Special Seminar - Saket Navlakha, "Algorithms and Data Structures in the Brain"


Event Location: 

32-G449 Patil/Kiva

Event Date/Time: 

Wednesday, February 20, 2019 - 4:00pm

A fundamental challenge in neuroscience is to understand the algorithms that neural
circuits have evolved to solve computational problems critical for survival. In this talk, I will
describe how the olfactory circuit in the fruit fly brain has evolved simple yet effective
algorithms to process and store odors. First, I will describe how fruit flies use a variant of a
traditional computer science algorithm (called locality-sensitive hashing) to perform
efficient similarity searches. Second, I will describe how this circuit uses a variant of a
classic data structure (called a Bloom filter) to perform novelty detection for odors. In both
cases, we show that tricks from biology can be translated to improve machine
computation, while also raising new hypotheses about neural function. I will conclude by
arguing that the search for "algorithms in nature" is not limited to only the brain and could
include many other areas of biology, including plant biology.
Saket Navlakha is an assistant professor in the Integrative Biology Laboratory at the Salk Institute
for Biological Studies. He received an A.A. from Simon's Rock College in 2002, a B.S. from
Cornell University in 2005, and a Ph.D. in computer science from the University of Maryland
College Park in 2010. He was then a post-doc in the Machine Learning Department at Carnegie
Mellon University before starting his lab at the Salk Institute in 2014. His lab studies algorithms in
nature, i.e., how collections of molecules, cells, and organisms process information and solve
computational problems. In 2018, he was named a Pew Biomedical Scholar, and in 2019, he was
awarded an NSF CAREER award.
Host: Nancy Lynch