№ 165/2009 from Jun 23, 2009
The German Federal Ministry of Education and Research is supporting a new joint research project located at Freie Universität Berlin. Its objective is to investigate the role of memory in decision making. This group is part of the Bernstein Focus: Neuronal Basis of Learning. It is being funded in the amount of 2.3 million euros for a period of five years. Researchers at Freie Universität will be working closely with researchers at the universities of Würzburg and Freiburg.
This project is part of the National Bernstein Network Computational Neuroscience, which also includes the Bernstein Center for Computational Neuroscience, founded in 2004, and the Bernstein Focus: Neurotechnology established in 2008 in Berlin.
The aim of the Freie Universität-based project is to transfer new insights into the functioning of memory to robotics. The neurobiologist Prof. Dr. Dorothea Eisenhardt, coordinator of the program and researcher at Freie Universität explains, "Every decision we make is based on our knowledge, an accumulation of what we have learned in the past." That is how, for example, a bee or a fly learns that certain odors are associated with a food reward and then reacts to the learned odors.
The scientifically interesting questions include: How is learned information consolidated and stored in the brain, so that it can be retrieved in various decision-making situations? How is different learned information, such as various odors, classified, when bees make decisions? Using computer modeling, findings from memory and decision-making research are modeled and verified.
"To date, computer simulation of neurobiological processes has dealt mainly with the problem of how information from the environment or behavioral instructions are represented in the nervous system," according to the neuroinformatics professsor, Dr. Martin Nawrot, of Freie Universität. A new aspect is constructing network models in which decisions must be made among various representations. In a model of this type, findings from behavioral biology would be translated to a mathematical language that could then be implemented and tested in robots. With this procedure, robots should be able to achieve the "ability" to modify their control structure dependent upon interactions with their environment and to investigate their environment with "spontaneous" behavior. It is also expected that basic biological research will profit from the research of this group. Dr. Eisenhardt expects that the results of the investigations will lead to new hypotheses about biological mechanisms and will stimulate new research projects.
In addition to Dorothea Eisenhardt and Martin Nawrot, researchers at the Bernstein Focus include the neurobiologist Prof. Dr. Randolf Menzel and the computer scientist Prof. Dr. Raúl Rojas, both of Freie Universität; PD Dr. Bertram Gerber (Universität Würzburg); and Prof. Dr. Martin Riedmiller (Universität Freiburg). The collaboration of researchers from the fields of neurobiology, computer modeling, and neuroinformatics as well as artificial intelligence is expected to lead to a better understanding of the relationship between learning, memory, and the mechanisms of decision making.