It has being more than a month since two extraordinary things happened, one of these things that when experienced you know they will stick into your memories forever. The first one took place in the island of Sardinia, Italy, from the 28th of April until the 10th of May and it is being extraordinary since 2007. The second one happened to me on that same period, and I cannot but smile when I recall it. In order to describe the former, one has to understand first the previous, so the curious reader should wait until the final lines of this post for it to be unraveled.
What happened first is the following event: the 2014 CapoCaccia Neuromorphic Engineering Workshop. Sounds like science fiction right? Well, it almost is. Neuromorphic Engineering is a field born in the 80’s focused in developing new computing technologies inspired in how the brain works. The systems developed operate in an analogous mode, in contrast of the digital computers used today, and are able to overcome many of the current challenges of computing, such as pattern recognition, inference or sensory integration, all with very little power consumption. More than a hundred experts in the field got together in a remote hotel, in a cape of the island, to work in collaboration and discuss the challenges of this exciting new discipline.
One of the most impressive aspects of the workshop is its own structure. Instead of having a fixed set of defined talks and workgroups, the program evolves itself according to the interest of the participants. During the morning, experts of all areas of neuroscience, from neuroanatomy to artificial intelligence, give an overview of their field. However, no power point is allowed and they are forced to write everything on a board. This favors both a more didactic-oriented lecture and the interaction of the participants. During the afternoon and evening -always accompanied by an amazing degustation of local Sardinian gastronomy- the workgroups take place. The disco of the hotel gets converted into what it looks like a NASA station: full of cables, computers and all sorts of chips and robots. In there, scientist work closer together to accomplish different projects, sharing their technology, knowledge and vision.
This last point brings me into the second extraordinary fact that I mentioned at the beginning. During one of the workgroups some of the participants were trying to overcome a certain problem with one of the neuromorphic chips. While trying to fix it, they came up with an idea about how they could build that chip in the future in order to solve that problem and other related issues. Later on, in a discussion together with another group they mentioned this again. And here comes the beauty of the story: right after they mentioned this, one of the participants went to talk to them. He had already thought about something similar a few months ago and was trying to implement it with his research group, planning to publish it once it worked. I thought that there would be disappointment, because the nice idea was already being implemented. Instead, the other scientists were happy about it: somebody else was testing it already and they would all have the benefits sooner than expected.
It was right there, while I witnessed this situation, when the extraordinary thing happened. I was flashed back many years in time, when I used to see the world with more innocent eyes. Science entailed for me this romantic concept about people cooperating, sharing ideas and working together towards the goal of solving the unanswered questions of our nature. This romantic view of science got lost somehow during the past years, merely because I saw that the ultimate goal is very frequently prostituted, and the path towards it thus corrupted. The view I had in the past came back to my mind after seeing those scientists interact, and that is why I smiled.
CappoCaccia left into my memories many things, but there is one that dominates my thoughts every time I recall those days: it reminded me how science should be, and more important, why I want to be part of it.
- S. Soldado Magraner