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Brain & Behaviour lab

Dept. of Bioengineering & Dept. of Computing - Imperial College London Contact Me
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A. Aldo Faisal
PI Brain & Behaviour Lab
(Bioengineering) &
Machine Learning group (Computing)

Dept. of Computing &
Dept. of Bioengineering
South Kensington Campus,
Imperial College London,
London, SW7 2AZ


Associate Group Head
MRC Clinical Sci. Center
Hammersmith Hospital,
Du Cane Road
London, W12 0NN

Selected papers:
here for Full List)

Abbott, W.M. and Faisal, A.A. "Ultra low-cost 3D gaze estimation: an intuitive high information throughput compliment to direct brain-machine-interfaces", J.Neural Eng. 9(4):
046016 (pdf)

Faisal, A.A., Stout, D., Apel, J. and Bradley, B. (2010) “The manipulative complexity of Lower Paleolithic stone toolmaking”, PLoS ONE 5(11:): e13718 (

Faisal, A.A. and Wolpert, D.M. (2009) “Near optimal combination of sensory and motor uncertainty in time during a naturalistic perception-action task", J. Neurophysiol., Vol. 101(4), pp. 1901-1912 (

Faisal A.A., Selen, L.P.J. and Wolpert, D.M. (2008) “Noise in the nervous system”, Nature Reviews Neuroscience 9:292-303 (

Welcome to the Lab
We study both machine learning systems and biological brains: learning from the brain how to advance technology, and vice versa use advanced technology to reverse-engineer the brain - we call it "Neurotechnology".
Our research fuses neuroscience with technology contributing to the emerging discipline of neurotechnology. We combine methods from computing, physics and engineering with experimental human studies to understand how the brain works: We pursue both basic science and translational work by a. reverse engineering from first principles the algorithms that drive brains and behaviour and b. translating this understanding into technology that helps patients and people in general.

Our research questions are centred on a basic characteristic of biological systems: noise, uncertainty or variability in behaviour. Variability can be observed across many levels of biological behaviour: from the movements of our limbs, the responses of neurons in our brain, to the interaction of biomolecules. Such variability is emerging as a key ingredient in understanding biological principles (Faisal, Selen & Wolpert, 2008, Nature Rev Neurosci) and yet lacks adequate quantitative and computational methods for description and analysis. Crucially, we find that biological and behavioural variability contains important information that our brain and our technology can make us of (instead of just averaging it away): The brain knows about variability and uncertainty and it is linked to its own computations. Therefore, we use and develop statistical machine learning techniques, to predict behaviour and analyse data.

Our cross-disciplinary outlook is reflected by us being part of the Dept. of Bioengineering & Dept. of Computing (South Kensington Campus) and the MRC Clinical Sciences Centre (Hammersmith Hospital Campus). Our team and lab facilities are housed centrally inside Bioengineering at the Royal School of Mines Building on Prince Consort Rd (strategically next to the Natural History Museum and Hyde Park, see map here).
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Post-Doctoral Research Fellowship position available.

We seek a Post-Doctoral Research Associate for a 2 year Human Frontiers in Science funded project. We are seeking candidates with experience in computational neuroscience/cognitive neuroscience/psychophysics/machine learning. Applicants should have (or soon to be awarded) a Ph.D. in a discipline relevant to the project and publications in high-quality journals. Informal enquiries may be addressed to Dr A Aldo Faisal,
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Some of our thoughts how brain-inspired technology can help us tackle Big Data flowed into our appearance on the BBC Forum program - Humans and Big Data: Who is in charge?

A 45 minute discussion on BBC's The Forum: Are computers now so adept at handling previously unimaginable amounts of data that a meaningful partnership can open between human and computer brain? In this week's Forum Carrie Gracie discusses the shared journey ahead with Aldo Faisal, a neurotechnologist bringing engineering expertise to the study of the human brain and vice-versa; Larry Norton, a cancer specialist harnessing a supercomputer to diagnosis and treatment; and statistician Patrick Wolfe trying to keep humans on top in a world of dizzying digital data.
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Our "Strictly Science" exhibition setup in Imperial College Main Entrance celebrating 100 years of the Medical Research Council (MRC). From a working historical lab from 100 years ago, you can also experience 3 technologies developed by our laboratory as  Lab of the Present, including a demo of the world's highest throughput brain-machine interface - and a fun futuristic installation Lab of the Future writing text straight into your eyes.
The whole thing runs every day from the 4th to the 14th of April 2013 - see the
Web site or Facebook. It's is of course free for the public and very family friendly with activities and cafe. "We" being the MRC CSC design company Haberdashery and Will, Anastasia, Andreas and others from our lab with Aldo as scientific co-director.
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We were awarded the prestigious Human Frontiers in Science Program Grant (1.05 Million USD, 2% success chance) by HFSP. In close collaboration with Michael H. Dickinson's Lab at the University of Washington (Seattle) and Carlos Ribeiro's Lab at the Champaliamaud Neuroscience Program (Lisbon) we will work on Value-based decision making in Drosophila foraging: genes, computations and behaviour.

Our aim is to understand from the level of genes and neurons the neural computations involved in neuroeconomic decision making in an evolutionary fundamental behaviour: foraging in the genetic model organism Drosophila melanogaster (the famous fruit fly). The lab is now seeking a suitably qualified PostDoc with a strong publication profile.

Frugal engineering - Our research was exclusively featured in an article of WIRED magazine 3/2012, focussing on the lab's signature approach to neurotechnology: "cheap components are Faisal's stock-in-trade, and he has dedicated himself to solving complex problems at minimal cost."

We reiterated this message again at the
TEDx Imperial event on 23rd March 2012 - concluding with the message on our goal of Frugal Innovation: Frugal engineering is achieving more with fewer resources.
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The physics of thought set molecular limits to our brain's architecture - Scientific American's cover story "The Physics of Intelligence" is based on our recent work. Over the past few years we investigated how the reliability (or noisiness) of signalling molecules in neurons, place fundamental physical limits to the size of our brain's wiring at 100 nm (0.1 micrometer). Thus, just as in computer chip design, evolution miniaturised our (and most animals) wiring to the physical limits, and our brains are operating at that limit. In turn our results demonstrate how basic biophysical properties of proteins set ultimate limits to the evolution of the whole brain.
We published this work in a series of papers starting with Faisal et al. (2005, Current Biology,
PDF), Faisal & Laughlin (2007, PLOS Comp. Biol., PDF) and in a bigger context of Noise in the Nervous System in Faisal et al. (2008, Nature Reviews Neuroscience, PDF).
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Did our ancestors had to grow bigger brains to make axes ? - We (motor neuroscientists) & archeologists team up to understand evolution of the brain: Was it the evolution of the hand, or of the brain, that enabled prehistoric toolmakers to make the leap from striking off simple flakes of rock to fashioning a sophisticated hand axe? (Imperial College Press release here)

Our study, the fruit of an exciting collaboration with neuro-archeologist
Dietrich Stout (Emory University) and experimental archeologists Bruce Bradley (flintknapper on our video) and Jan Apel just appeared in PLoS One (here) - generating some Media Buzz, including an interview on the BBC 4 Today Show and the print media (details here). Note, the neuroimaging data was collected previously by our co-author Dietrich Stout and Thierry Chaminade.

Key enabler for this study (and the field of experimental archeology) was our development of quantitative techniques to quantify thedexterity required to manufacture stone age tools from experimental data. Our techniques are based on motor psychophysics (data gloves, motion tracking) to record the manufacturing process of flint stone toolmaking. This was analysed using a novel and objective method (based on data mining algorithms) to compare the complexity of human hand, arm and body movements. As such our novel technique can be applied to anywhere we want to measure and compare motor/dexterity requirements from rehabilitation medicine to product design - true Neurotechnology. This forms part our research program to develop a “Bioinformatics of Behaviour” for the automated annotation and analysis of behaviour.

We gave a TED talk on how “Seeing is Moving” - our ultra-low cost neurotechnology that gives movement-impaired and paralysed people the ability to interact with the world dynamically again.

Our ultra-low cost Neurotechnology system (GT3D) enabled the first video game for paralysed people. We developed a 3D eye tracking system (at roughly 1/1000 of the cost of comparable commercial system, or less then 50 USD) and a human-computer user interface solution for heavily impaired people. The result of two projects in the Lab which produced the first video game for movement impaired or paralysed people. This generated some media buzz, being picked up by the The Sun, The Times of India and Engadget. More about it

William Abbott (wearing the eyetracker's head mount he designed in the TED photo) wins the City & Guilds award for his work on developing a 3D eye tracking system.

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