How does the human brain acquire or reacquire knowledge? How does it interact with technological objects or with other brains? The cognitive engineering course introduces some of the major concepts and findings of the study of the brain and its functions (perception, action, decision-making, consciousness, memory, language, social cognition, etc.) and illustrates how this fundamental knowledge can help to resolve complex engineering problems involving human operators.

Module 1: repairing and augmenting the brain (40h)

One striking characteristic of the brain is that it is a learning device. A well-developed brain gives to humans unprecedented flexibility and adaptability. The aim of this module is to present cases where this adaptability is challenged, either through neurological damage (sensory deficits, genetic diseases, stroke, etc), or when new skills or knowledge must be acquired.

The module contains 4 parts. In the first one, it will explore the engineering issues raised by cognitive deficits in several areas (sensory-motor, memory, language, executive control), and present existing diagnostic tools and rehabilitation techniques. Engineering solutions to cognitive deficits (ie, prostheses, neural implants, neuronal grafts, drugs, training software, etc), must be supported by a deep understanding of the consequences of these interventions on the information processing that takes place within the brain. In the second part, we explore the issues raised by the design of efficient training/education methods. We review some key notions in the area of knowledge representation and consolidation, as well as some engineering solutions for improving learning (serious games, e-learning, etc). In the third part, we discuss the fundamental issues of learning and plasticity in light of current computational models of brain functions. The course will conclude with a review of the ethical and philosophical aspects of brain repair and augmentation, including an in-depth investigation of the notion of informed consent.

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Module 2: the connected brain (40h)

The evolution of the human brain has given us an unprecedented ability to change our own environment. We have deeply modified our natural ecosystems, concentrated our expanding populations in large scale habitats, constructed planet-scaled institutions. These environmental changes feed back on our human brains in unpredictable ways: are we going to survive to the very environment we have created? Understanding the basics of human cognition in its interaction with its environment is therefore essential to predict and control this feedback loop.

In this module, we zoom on two kinds of interactions: Interactions of humans with computer technology, and human decisions in social and/or uncertain contexts. In the first part, we examine how a deep understanding of the functioning of perception, action, attention and language can help designing technological devices adapted to human usage. We also discuss how the same scientific knowledge is implicated in the construction of automatized human aids which can help or replace human operators. In the second part, we discuss the issues of the decisions that a human operator has to make in a given context. We show that a deep understanding of the decision situation, both from a formal viewpoint, but also from a psychological and evolutionary viewpoint allows to understand what is sometimes viewed as biases or limits in human cognition, and sometimes as efficient heuristics. We discuss these biases and heuristics in social contexts, and presents the consequences for the improvement of collective decisions in institutions. In the final part of the course, we discuss the ethical and philosophical issues raised by this research with particular attention to the notions of control and free will.

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