Advisory Board

Demis Hassabis

The PhysOrg article “Mind-reading” experiment highlights how brain records memories said

It may be possible to “read” a person’s memories just by looking at brain activity, according to research carried out by Wellcome Trust scientists. In a study published today in the journal Current Biology, they show that our memories are recorded in regular patterns, a finding which challenges current scientific thinking.
 
Demis Hassabis and Professor Eleanor Maguire at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging at UCL (University College London) have previously studied the role of a small area of the brain known as the hippocampus which is crucial for navigation, memory recall and imagining future events. Now, the researchers have shown how the hippocampus records memory.
 
“Understanding how we as humans record our memories is critical to helping us learn how information is processed in the hippocampus and how our memories are eroded by diseases such as Alzheimer’s,” said Demis Hassabis.
 
“It’s also a small step towards the idea of mind reading, because just by looking at neural activity, we are able to say what someone is thinking.”

Demis Hassabis is a computer game designer, AI programmer, neuroscientist, and world-class games player. A child prodigy in chess, he reached master standard at the age of 13 with an ELO rating of 2300, at the time one of the highest ratings for a boy of that age in the world.
 
After finishing his A-Level exams two years early he began his computer games career at the renowned Bullfrog Productions, first level designing on the cult Syndicate and then at 17 co-creating the classic Theme Park, with famous games designer Peter Molyneux, which went on to sell several million copies and win a coveted Golden Joystick Award. Demisthen left Bullfrog to take up his place at Queens’ College, University of Cambridge where he graduated from the Computer Science Tripos in 1997 with a Double First.
 
Following his graduation he worked briefly as a Lead AI programmer on the ground-breaking Lionhead Studios title Black & White before founding Elixir Studios in 1998, a high profile London-based independent games developer. He grew the company to 60 people, signing publishing deals with Vivendi Universal and Microsoft, and was the executive designer of the BAFTA-nominated Republic: The Revolution and Evil Genius games.
 
Demis then left the games industry, switching to cognitive neuroscience, citing a desire to get back to his lifelong passion of developing artificial intelligence technology. Working in the field of autobiographical memory and amnesia he had several influential and highly cited papers published in 2007 in high-impact journals.
 
His most important work to date was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in early 2007 and demonstrated that patients with damage to their hippocampus, known to cause amnesia, were also unable to imagine themselves in new experiences. Importantly this established a link between the constructive process of imagination and the reconstructive process of episodic memory recall.
 
Based on these findings and a follow-up fMRI study, Demis developed his ideas into a new theoretical account of the episodic memory system identifying scene construction, the generation and online maintenance of a complex and coherent scene, as a key process underlying both memory recall and imagination. This work was widely covered in the mainstream media and well-received by the academic community, culminating in the work being listed in the top 10 scientific breakthroughs of the year by the prestigious journal Science.
 
Demis coauthored Patients with hippocampal amnesia cannot imagine new experiences, When fear is near: threat imminence elicits prefrontal-periaqueductal gray shifts in humans, Deconstructing episodic memory with construction, Using Imagination to Understand the Neural Basis of Episodic Memory, Impaired spatial and non-spatial configural learning in patients with hippocampal pathology, and Cortical midline involvement in autobiographical memory.