Now or Never: TCCI Founder Tianqiao Chen Announces One Billion Investment in AI + Brain Science

The year 2023 will be remembered in history as “Year One of Large Language Models”. Among the many big shots that have entered the artificial intelligence world, Tianqiao Chen, the former Internet industry leader who chose to stay behind the curtains for years, is now back on the stage, and his attention is focused on a particular field.

▷Image 1: According to Tianqiao Chen, the Founder of Shanda Group Tianqiao and Chrissy Chen Institute, the new-generation AI is the greatest invention in human history. Image source: Tianqiao and Chrissy Chen Institute (TCCI)

In July, Tianqiao and Chrissy Chen Institute (TCCI) announced an additional 1-billion-yuan investment in “AI + Brain Science” at the World Artificial Intelligence Conference (WAIC) in Shanghai, aiming to promote the mutual integration and facilitation of human intelligence and artificial intelligence. The program caused an immediate sensation upon its launch, with the name Tianqiao Chen trending on social media platforms and news outlets.

According to sources close to Tianqiao Chen, he was asked to share his view on the latest progress of artificial intelligence when invited to be the keynote speaker at a forum organized by GASA University in the first quarter of this year. He blurted out: “This is the greatest invention ever made by mankind. We’re privileged to embrace this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity!”

As the founder of the world’s largest private brain science research institute, he has been highly concerned about AI and big data for many years. The emergence of a new generation of AI technology, represented by large language models, is even more thrilling for him. Thus, he has set the strategy of “All in AI for Brain Science” for the institute.

As early as two years ago, TCCI established the Chen Frontier Lab for Artificial Intelligence and Mental Health in cooperation with the Shanghai Mental Health Center (National Medical Center for Mental Diseases), exploring new ways to accurately diagnose and treat mental illnesses with the help of AI and big data, and incubating projects such as virtual psychotherapists. Meanwhile, the institute has been actively pooling resources to develop a new generation of technological tools for better collection of brain activity data, such as the flexible invasive brain-computer interface electrodes jointly developed with the Shanghai Institute of Microsystem of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, mobile eye-tracking technology in collaboration with Zhejiang University, home-use Smart EEG in cooperation with the University of Electronic Science and Technology of China, and mobile games for online cognitive assessment co-developed with Tencent Games. These projects have all made good progress.

However, decoding the brain is still one of the most complicated challenges for human beings, and the employment of artificial intelligence has been struggling with problems such as lack of data transparency and process controllability. To address these issues, TCCI has embarked on a unique path of “AI + Brain Science”, characterized by mutual comparisons and deciphering of AI and human intelligence. This ambition was put into action through a billion dollars of funding and the continuous recruitment of AI scientists, in an effort to break the bottlenecks of “AI + Brain Science”, namely, data, communications, and talent. TCCI is willing to share its resources for free with those who hold the same vision and ambition.

Data: What are the difficulties facing doctors and brain scientists who want to incorporate AI into their work?

How can AI help predict and assess schizophrenia? This is the question that interests Professor Hongyan Liu of Zhejiang Sci-Tech University the most.

Traditional approaches rely on highly subjective conversations with patients and their relatives, which constrains the in-depth understanding of the course of the disease and the continuous objective monitoring of treatment effects. In contrast, recent international studies have shown that AI models based on verbal fluency tasks can effectively distinguish schizophrenia patients from normal controls, validating the feasibility of AI-assisted diagnosis.

At the annual meeting of the Chinese Neuroscience Society at the end of July this year, TCCI announced that it would first allocate 100 million yuan from the “One billion package” to fund the collection, analysis, and training of data collected from the human brain, behaviors, and the whole body, and to provide infrastructure support such as storage servers and computational capacities, as well as other innovative data collection technologies. Professor Hongyan Liu is particularly interested in eye-tracking technology and believes that combining eye-movement data with the data from verbal fluency tasks will contribute to the construction of more accurate AI prediction models for schizophrenia. Soon after, TCCI reached a cooperation agreement with Professor Hongyan Liu’s team, a commitment to support the team’s research in a number of ways, including funding and technology.

▷Image 2: TCCI announced an additional 1-billion-yuan investment in “AI + Brain Science” at the WAIC. Image source: Tianqiao and Chrissy Chen Institute (TCCI)

According to personnel in charge at TCCI, the program has received positive responses from scientists and clinicians, as it attempts to address the pain points faced by many researchers and doctors in terms of data loss, data confusion, dark data, and lack of professional AI talents for data management and analysis. Multiple applications were submitted on the launch day, and the first grant landed within 10 days after the announcement to support the construction of the first large-scale EEG dataset in China stimulated by Chinese corpora initiated by the joint research group of Haiyan Wu of the University of Macau and Quanying Liu of the Southern University of Science and Technology.

Communications: How to foster mutual communications between AI experts and brain scientists?

As a neurosurgeon, the President of Fudan University-affiliated Huashan Hospital, and the head of Tianqiao and Chrissy Chen Institute (China), Professor Ying Mao is very intrigued by the value of AI in assisting clinical consultations, analyzing brain images and EEG data, and formulating surgical protocols. He believes that AI provides a new perspective on inspecting the human brain, which is beneficial for overcoming the obstacles of subjectivity in research and advancing the study of brain diseases.

To encourage exchanges between AI and brain science, TCCI has organized six academic conferences with the theme of “AI for Brain Science”. These conferences gathered AI scientists, neuroscientists, clinicians, industrial experts, and students to discuss the prospects of AI in fundamental research and health applications. More than 800 experts and nearly one million online viewers in total attended the conferences.

In the “Memory and Artificial Intelligence” session, brain scientists shared the latest advances in neural mechanisms related to memory encoding, consolidation, and extraction, while AI scientists introduced the idea of validating existing AI algorithm designs from brain science discoveries, and then applying the findings of memory research to the development of AI algorithms with memory capabilities.

In November, TCCI launched a conference series themed “Digital Life and Consciousness Uploading”, which attracted AI scientists, neuroscientists, and other experts in related fields to discuss the ultimate form of AI and brain science. According to the head of academic conferences of the institute, these conferences aim to comprehensively explore the concept of “digital life”, including ethical issues, the accumulation of personal data, brain-computer interface decoding, and other topics. “Digital life requires the concerted efforts of the scientific community, and even more so, it requires the common concern and exploration of the whole society. By organizing this series of conferences, the Chen Institute expects to build an ecosystem engaging a wide range of communities in the discussion of digital life and take a small step toward the goal of seeking consensus.”

▷Image 3: TCCI launched a conference series themed “Digital Life and Digital Twin”, with the first session focusing on digital life and consciousness uploading, from Sci-fi to reality. Image source: Tianqiao and Chrissy Chen Institute (TCCI)

Talent: How to cultivate a new generation of scientists in the new era?

In the era of AI and brain science, the cultivation of interdisciplinary young talent is essential. In this regard, TCCI organized a university competition tour themed “AI + Brain Science”, which attracted many talented young students. Jingxuan Zhang and Junhao Bai from Tongji University used this platform to present their innovative project, MindCam, an online multifunctional brainwave camera that allows users to visualize changes in their mood and attention in the form of avatar effects and filters on the computer screen. In this way, they hope to help users with relaxation training, stress reduction, and anxiety alleviation or to improve their attention and cognitive functions, says Zhang. The project won the Brain-Computer Interface Specialty Track of the competition.

In fact, TCCI has been keeping an eye on the lack of interdisciplinary talent with both AI and brain science backgrounds. The Institute attempted to solve the problem through innovations at the source, utilizing new forms outside the classroom such as competition tours and summer schools to cultivate talents.

▷Image 4: Award ceremony of the “AI + Brain Science” university competition tour hosted by TCCI. Image source: Tianqiao and Chrissy Chen Institute (TCCI)

The Summer School on Computational and Cognitive Neuroscience, located at the Cold Spring Harbor Asia Center in Suzhou, is one of the programs that have won the unwavering support of the Chen Institute. Over the past 10 years, many students have grown to be world-renowned scholars, such as Songting Li, Professor at the Institute of Natural Sciences, Shanghai Jiao Tong University, Guangyu Yang, Assistant Professor at MIT; Alan Anticevic, Tenured Associate Professor at Yale University, Jean-Rémi King, Meta Fellow, and Francis Song, OpenAI Fellow, and many others. Founder of the Summer School, Professor Xiaojing Wang of New York University, said: “There are very few organizations in China dedicated to supporting interdisciplinary research and education. I would like to express my special gratitude to Mr. Chen and his wife for founding the Tianqiao and Chrissy Chen Institute and for their support.”

Not so long ago, Viktor Jirsa, Professor at the Institute of Systems Neuroscience, Aix-Marseille University, France, visited Shanghai. As one of the chief scientists of the Human Brain Project, he led the EBRAIN project and successfully validated model-guided clinical epilepsy surgery. After learning about the “AI + Brain Science” program initiated by the Chen Institute, Jirsa spoke highly of it and exclaimed that the opportunities for the future development of brain science are within our reach.

▷Image 5: Professor Jirsa, Chief Scientist of HBP, visited Shanghai and discussed cooperation with Professor Ying Mao, President of Huashan Hospital and Head of TCCI (China). Image source: Tianqiao and Chrissy Chen Institute (TCCI)

“The digital life depicted in science fiction is enticing. I believe that only by integrating AI and brain science can we create authentic digital life with souls.” Seven years after venturing into the field of brain science, Tianqiao Chen set foot on the new journey of large AI models in a low-profile yet elegant manner.

Reporter | Hanqi
Editor | Yunke
Reviewer | Cunyuan