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Mus silicium

You might have visited this web site already, as Mus silicium was even featured in The New York Times last October. J. Hopfield and C. Brody captured the imagination of many researchers back then by presenting us with an intellectual challenge in the form of a scientific paper. Consider this artificial organism (a neural network) that can recognize the word 'one'. Here's all the information we have on the anatomy and physiology of its artificial brain, or at least the information you need to know. Now figure how its brain actually works.

Although Hopfield and Brody described all the characteristics of their network and its success in recognizing patterns in their initial publication, they did not reveal how the model worked and challenged you to figure it out in their web site. Here they made the organism available for you to experiment, to test your predictions and, hopefully, to come out with the correct answer. The authors even offered a prize for those who successfully took on the challenge!

The results are out and, yes, there are some winners. More importantly, however, the workings of the model are a welcome contribution to our search for the mechanisms that could underlie pattern detection in an actual brain. But despite its success, this rather atypical way of publishing scientific data has got mixed reactions. Although some people found it stimulating to think about the model, some critics dubbed it a publicity stunt — a mere gimmick to attract more readers to the paper. Clearly, the only way to decide is by visiting the web site and judging for yourself. Are you game?

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López, J. Mus silicium . Nat Rev Neurosci 2, 76 (2001). https://doi.org/10.1038/3505335

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