Asynchronous activity in balanced networks of excitatory and inhibitory neurons is believed to constitute the primary medium for the propagation and transformation of information in the neocortex. Here we show that an unstructured, sparsely connected network of model spiking neurons can display two fundamentally different types of asynchronous activity that imply vastly different computational properties. For weak synaptic couplings, the network at rest is in the well-studied asynchronous state, in which individual neurons fire irregularly at constant rates. In this state, an external input leads to a highly redundant response of different neurons that favors information transmission but hinders more complex computations. For strong couplings, we find that the network at rest displays rich internal dynamics, in which the firing rates of individual neurons fluctuate strongly in time and across neurons. In this regime, the internal dynamics interact with incoming stimuli to provide a substrate for complex information processing and learning.
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