Michael A. Arbib
Contributing Faculty, Neuroscience and Architecture
About: Michael A. Arbib has joined the part-time faculty at NewSchool to help develop the new Certificate in Neuroscience and Architecture. He has recently completed a term as Vice-President of the Academy of Neuroscience for Architecture (ANFA: www.anfarch.org), with a special interest in neuromorphic architecture in the sense of supplying buildings with an “interaction infrastructure” whose design is informed by research on computational models for cognitive and social neuroscience. His recent writings also include articles on the neuroscience of design and of the experience of architecture, and he has presented talks on the architecture-neuroscience nexus around the USA as well as in Australia, Austria, Germany, Italy, Singapore and elsewhere. He is the Fletcher Jones Professor of Computer Science, as well as a Professor of Biological Sciences, Biomedical Engineering, Electrical Engineering, Neuroscience and Psychology at the University of Southern California (USC), which he joined in September of 1986.
Education: Born in England in 1940, Arbib grew up in Australia (with a B.Sc. (Hons.) in Pure Mathematics from Sydney University), and received his Ph.D. in Mathematics from MIT in 1963. After five years at Stanford, he became founding chairman of the Department of Computer and Information Science at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst in 1970, and remained in that Department until his move to USC in 1986.
Published Works: The thrust of his work is expressed in the title of his first book, Brains, Machines and Mathematics (McGraw-Hill, 1964). The brain is not a computer in the current technological sense, but he has based his career on the argument that we can learn much about machines from studying brains, and much about brains from studying machines. His current interest in architecture extends the scope to Brains, Machines and Buildings. 2012 saw the publication of Arbib’s 40th book, How the Brain Got Language: The Mirror System Hypothesis followed by the 2013 edited volume Language, Music and the Brain: A Mysterious Relationship.
Research Interests: His research has long included a focus on mechanisms underlying the coordination of perception and action. This is tackled at two levels: via schema theory and through the detailed analysis of neural networks, working closely with the experimental findings of neuroscientists. His group prepared the first computational model of mirror neurons and conducted some of the key initial imaging studies of the human mirror system. He continues to develop insights into the monkey brain and use them to chart the evolution of the human language-ready brain.