Is neuroscience useful? (Updated)

I recently got a quadcopter and in pockets of my spare time I’ve been attempting to make it an autonomous drone. Yet reading this article on unmanned drones has me returning to some thoughts I’ve had while working on the project.  Basically: is neuroscience useful?  Much of the utility from drones comes from their autonomy and adaptability.  In my naive fantasies, I think that the work we do to understand the nervous system should inspire drone makers, hiring neuroscientists left and right to implant the lessons we’ve learned from the nervous system into these machines.

And yet – and yet I’m not aware of anyone doing this.  There are whispers and rumors emanating from the Brain Corporation that this is their mission but I have yet to see anything concrete come out of that (to be fair, they’re a relatively new company).  But even more we should be asking ourselves: are we going to be leap-frogged by those who are working in computer sciences – artificial intelligence, machine learning, vision processing?

That the drones are living in a newly created ecosystem, interacting and invading new niches, is undeniable.  Presumably an enterprising young scientist in ecology, neuroscience, (economic) decision-making should be perfectly suited to at least consulting on these projects.  I guess the question is: does that actually happen?  Outside of ‘explaining the brain’ for ‘medicine’, do we do anything that’s actually useful?  Or is that up to the engineers?

Update: Well here’s a good example of using animal behavior/reflexes to improve robotics.

3 thoughts on “Is neuroscience useful? (Updated)

  1. Maybe not drones, but companies like Qualcomm and Microsoft have research divisions with neuro focuses.

    But to speak to the underlying anxiety: yeah there don’t seem to be that many industry jobs for neuro.

    • Hah I know it sounds like I have some underlying anxiety here, but you can really take the comments at face value (which, admittedly, is a bit rare for me).

      I really AM curious as to what neuroscience has to contribute to people’s physical lives. There is, obviously, always medicine (though the success rate of neuro in pharma is approaching 0). But what about other stuff? I read at some point that for Google’s driverless car they were getting all this incoming sensory data, but they didn’t know how to weight each of the inputs. Shouldn’t they be able to ask somebody who works in sensory integration? Do you think that they would have been able to give a rigorous and useful answer based on neuro knowledge? I don’t know if they could. Maybe?

  2. Pingback: Who cares about neuroscience? | neuroecology

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