Having to focus on one voice in a crowded room of boisterous speakers is a common experience for most of us, and we humans are extremely good at it, yet the latest algorithms running on the fastest modern computers fail miserably at isolating a single voice from a noisy background in all but the simplest cases. This demonstrates that attending to relevant sounds in our everyday environment poses a surprisingly challenging computational problem for the brain, despite how easy it may seem. Understanding how the cerebral cortex solves this problem could point the way towards cures of attention related mental disorders, and suggest new approaches for designing man-made machines capable of intelligently processing real-world data.
In my laboratory we combine behavioral, physiological and theoretical methods to elucidate the role of the cortex during auditory sensory processing. We are currently developing a rodent model of selective auditory attention, with the long term goal of uncovering the neural mechanisms underlying our remarkable ability to attend to some sounds while blocking others.