Call for Abstracts: NIPS Workshop on Statistical Methods for Understanding Neural Systems


Statistical Methods for Understanding Neural Systems
Friday, December 11th, 2015
Montreal, Canada

Organizers: Allie Fletcher Jakob Macke Ryan Adams Jascha Sohl-Dickstein

Recent advances in neural recording technologies, including calcium imaging and high-density electrode arrays, have made it possible to simultaneously record neural activity from large populations of neurons for extended periods of time. These developments promise unprecedented insights into the collective dynamics of neural populations and thereby the underpinnings of brain-like computation. However, this new large-scale regime for neural data brings significant methodological challenges. This workshop seeks to explore the statistical methods and theoretical tools that will be necessary to study these data, build new models of neural dynamics, and increase our understanding of the underlying computation. We have invited researchers across a range of disciplines in statistics, applied physics, machine learning, and both theoretical and experimental neuroscience, with the goal of fostering interdisciplinary insights. We hope that active discussions among these groups can set in motion new collaborations and facilitate future breakthroughs on fundamental research problems.

Call for Papers
We invite high quality submissions of extended abstracts on topics including, but not limited to, the following fundamental questions:

How can we deal with incomplete data in a principled manner?
In most experimental settings, even advanced neural recording methods can only sample a small fraction of all neurons that might be involved in a task, and the observations are often indirect and noisy. As a result, many recordings are from neurons that receive inputs from neurons that are not themselves directly observed, at least not over the same time period. How can we deal with this `missing data' problem in a principled manner? How does this sparsity of recordings influence what we can and cannot infer about neural dynamics and mechanisms?

How can we incorporate existing models of neural dynamics into neural data analysis?
Theoretical neuroscientists have intensely studied neural population dynamics for decades, resulting in a plethora of models of neural population dynamics. However, most analysis methods for neural data do not directly incorporate any models of neural dynamics, but rather build on generic methods for dimensionality reduction or time-series modelling. How can we incorporate existing models of neural dynamics? Conversely, how can we design neural data analysis methods such that they explicitly constrain models of neural dynamics?

What synergies are there between analyzing biological and artificial neural systems?
The rise of ‘deep learning’ methods has shown that hard computational problems can be solved by machine learning algorithms that are built by cascading many nonlinear units. Although artificial neural systems are fully observable, it has proven challenging to provide a theoretical understanding of how they solve computational problems and which features of a neural network are critical for its performance. While such ‘deep networks’ differ from biological neural networks in many ways, they provide an interesting testing ground for evaluating strategies for understanding neural processing systems. Are there synergies between analysis methods for analyzing biological and artificial neural systems? Has the resurgence of deep learning resulted in new hypotheses or strategies for trying to understand biological neural networks?

Confirmed Speakers:
Matthias Bethge
Mitya Chklovskii
John Cunningham
Surya Ganguli
Neil Lawrence
Guillermo Sapiro
Tatyana Sharpee
Richard Zemel

Workshop Website:
Email :