Daniel Wolpert

Daniel Wolpert

Daniel Wolpert is Professor of Engineering at the University of Cambridge and a Fellow of Trinity College. Daniel's research focuses on computational and experimental approaches to human sensorimotor control. Daniel read medical sciences at Cambridge and clinical medicine at Oxford. After working as a medical doctor for a year he completed a D. Phil. in the Physiology Department in Oxford. He then worked as a postdoctoral fellow and Fulbright Scholar at MIT, before moving to the Institute of Neurology, UCL. In 2005 he took up his current post in Cambridge. He was elected a Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences in 2004 and was awarded the Royal Society Francis Crick Prize Lecture (2005) and has given the Fred Kavli Distinguished International Scientist Lecture at the Society for Neuroscience (2009). Further details can be found on www.wolpertlab.com.

Daniel Wolpert starts his TED talk from a surprising premise: the brain evolved, not to think or feel, but to control movement. In this entertaining, data-rich talk he gives us a glimpse into how the brain creates the grace and agility of human motion.

Background: "Consider your hand. You use it to lift things, to balance yourself, to give and take, to sense the world. It has a range of interacting degrees of freedom, and it interacts with many different objects under a variety of environmental conditions. And for most of us, it all just works." At his lab in the Engineering department at Cambridge, Daniel Wolpert and his team are studying why, looking to understand the computations underlying the brain's sensorimotor control of the body. As he says, "I believe that to understand movement is to understand the whole brain. And therefore it’s important to remember when you are studying memory, cognition, sensory processing, they’re there for a reason, and that reason is action.” Movement is the only way we have of interacting with the world, whether foraging for food or attracting a waiter's attention. Indeed, all communication, including speech, sign language, gestures and writing, is mediated via the motor system. Taking this viewpoint, and using computational and robotic techniques as well as virtual reality systems, Wolpert and his team research the purpose of the human brain and the way it determines future actions."

This talk was recorded at TEDGlobal 2011 in July. It is made available under the terms of this Creative Commons licence.

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