SAGE Center Lecture by Christof Koch

March 07, 2024
Psychology 1312
Christof Koch, Allen Institute for Brain Science


Christof Koch is a Meritorious Investigator at the Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle, Washington and Chief Scientist at Tiny Blue Dot Foundation. Dr. Koch received his baccalaureate from the Lycée Descartes in Rabat, Morocco, his B.S. and M.S. in physics from the University of Tübingen in Germany and his Ph.D. from the Max-Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics in 1982. Subsequently, he spent four years as a postdoctoral fellow in the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and the Brain and Cognitive Sciences Department at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. From 1987 until 2013, Dr. Koch was a professor at the California Institute of Technology, from his initial appointment as Assistant Professor, Division of Biology and Division of Engineering and Applied Sciences in 1986, to his final position as Lois and Victor Troendle Professor of Cognitive & Behavioral Biology. Dr. Koch joined the Allen Institute for Brain Science as Chief Scientific Officer in 2011 and became President in 2015. Dr. Koch's research involves neurons – their diverse shapes, electrical behaviors, and their computational function within the mammalian brain, in particular in the neocortex. He discovered that in vivo cortical neurons do not integrate over large number of small inputs given their spiking variability, how neurons can multiply, the relationship between intra- and extra-cellular potential, and how this gives rise to the local field potential and the large-scale current sinks and sources and how weak extracellular fields can entrain spiking activity via ephaptic effects. He postulated the attentional saliency map hypothesis for biological and computer vision according to which one or more topographic organized spatial maps summarize bottom-up salient information in the visual system, he co-discovered, with Itzhak Fried, an high-level, invariant and abstract single neuron representation of familiar individuals and objects in the human medial temporal lobe (the so-called “Jennifer Aniston” or concept neurons) and developed the ‘continuous flashed suppression’ masking technique.  In collaboration with Francis Crick, he initiated the modern search for the neuronal correlates of consciousness, a systematic experimental program to identify the minimal bio-physical mechanisms jointly sufficient for any one specific conscious percept. In collaboration with Giulio Tononi, he co-developed the Integrated Information Theory of consciousness. He has authored several influential books: Methods in Neuronal Modeling: From Ions to Networks (MIT Press, 1998); Biophysics of Computation: Information Processing in Single Neurons (Oxford Press, 1999); The Quest for Consciousness: a Neurobiological Approach (Roberts and Co., 2004); Consciousness: Confessions of a Romantic Reductionist (MIT Press, 2012); The Feeling of Life Itself - Why Consciousness is Widespread but Can't be Computed (MIT Press, 2019). His most recent book, Then I Am Myself the World: What Consciousness Is and How to Expand It (Basic Books), is scheduled to be released in May 2024.