Big Data and the Brain

Fahd Alhazmi, Graduate Center, CUNY, student on big data and the brainWith the advent of big data, computers are becoming more human. They are also helping us unravel the mysteries of the human brain.

Few people understand the implications of this mash-up of big data, machine learning, and cognitive neuroscience better that Fahd Alhazmi, a first-year Graduate Center Ph.D. candidate in psychology and biology, a member of the CUNY Neuroscience Collaborative, and a trained software engineer.        

A fascination with “the inner workings of the human brain” drew him to his current field, he said. But he hasn’t completely abandoned his engineering background. Rather, he is applying the data science techniques he picked up during his undergraduate days in Saudi Arabia to understanding the intricacies of the human brain.

Neuroscience, today, is “very similar to some of the routine aspects of data science,” Alhazmi said, noting it “has been moving towards the use of complex algorithms and open-source practices, which are routinely taught in data science.”

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At the Graduate Center, Alhazmi is working with faculty members like Presidential Professor Tony Ro (Biology and Psychology) to understand how the brain represents and processes routine tasks, such as eye movements. To do this, they are applying algorithms — similar to the ones used to teach computers to act without explicit instructions — to brain wave data collected from functional magnetic resonance imaging and electroencephalograms.

Alhazmi came to the U.S. to pursue a Ph.D. because, in his words, “the level of education and the amount of decent opportunities you can get in the U.S. are not even comparable to what you would get in other places.” New York, specifically, was a big draw. “It was clear to me that Graduate Center is a central component of New York City’s cultural life, and I would like to be part of it, and hopefully contribute to it, in the future.”

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If you’re one of Alhazmi’s 19,000 or so Twitter followers, you’ll know the he’s already attuned to culture both in the U.S. and around the world. He regularly tweets about how digital culture influences both our psychology and our society.

Beyond tweeting, he contributes bylined articles and essays to Al-Qafelah magazine (in his words, “the National Geographic of the Arab world”) and Makkah Newspaper.

He sees his role as a public intellectual as equally important as his role as a researcher.

“I firmly believe it is time for scientists to step up and learn how to communicate their research to the general public,” he said. “Science needs selfies and stories in order to combat misinformation and restore public trust.”

And being in New York City reminds him of his ultimate goal. “When I open the main door leaving the GC after a long day, I always reflect on how my research projects are related to solving real-world problems and whether my research will help the people I see on the street. It is a hard question, but also necessary to keep asking this question.”

Submitted on: OCT 11, 2017

Category: General GC News | Psychology | Student News