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Christof Koch head shot photo

Christof Koch, Ph.D.

Meritorious Investigator


Christof Koch is a Meritorious Investigator at the Allen Institute.

Christof received his baccalaureate from the Lycée Descartes in Rabat, Morocco, his B.S. and M.S. in physics from the University of Tübingen in Germany and his Ph.D. from the Max-Planck Institute for biological Cybernetics in 1982. Subsequently, he spent four years as a postdoctoral fellow in the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and the Brain and Cognitive Sciences Department at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. From 1987 until 2013, Koch was a professor at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena, from his initial appointment as Assistant Professor, Division of Biology and Division of Engineering and Applied Sciences in 1986, to his final position as Lois and Victor Troendle Professor of Cognitive & Behavioral Biology. See here for Christof's academic pedigree and his students. Christof joined the Allen Institute for Brain Science as Chief Scientific Officer in 2011 and became President in 2015.

Christof’s passion are neurons – the atoms of perception, memory, behavior and consciousness – their diverse shapes, electrical behaviors, and their computational function within the mammalian brain, in particular in neocortex. The Allen Institute for Brain Science is engaged in a major effort to identify all the different types of neurons in the brains of mice and humans – the cell census effort. See the papers below.

Christof discovered that in vivo cortical neurons do not integrate over large number of small inputs given their spiking variability, how neurons can multiply, the relationship between intra- and extra-cellular potential, and how this gives rise to the local field potential and the large-scale current sinks and sources and how weak extracellular fields can entrain spiking activity via ephaptic effects. He postulated the attentional saliency map hypothesis for biological and computer vision according to which one or more topographic organized spatial maps summarize bottom-up salient information in the visual system, he co-discovered, with Itzhak Fried, an high-level, invariant and abstract single neuron representation of familiar individuals and objects in the human medial temporal lobe (the so-called “Jennifer Aniston” or concept neurons) and developed the ‘continuous flashed suppression’ masking technique.  In collaboration with Francis Crick, he initiated the modern search for the neuronal correlates of consciousness, a systematic experimental program to identify the minimal bio-physical mechanisms jointly sufficient for any one specific conscious percept. In collaboration with Giulio Tononi, he co-developed the Integrated Information Theory of consciousness.

Christof writings and interests integrate theoretical, computational and experimental neuroscience with philosophy and contemporary trends, in particular artificial intelligence. His latest book, The Feeling of Life Itself – Why Consciousness is Everywhere But Can’t be Computed, was published by MIT Press in Autumn of 2019.

His previous book, Consciousness: Confessions of a Romantic Reductionist, blends science and memoir to explore topics in discovering the roots of consciousness. Stemming in part from a long-standing collaboration with the late Nobel Laureate Francis Crick, Christof authored the book The Quest for Consciousness: A Neurobiological Approach. Koch also authored the technical books Biophysics of Computation: Information Processing in Single Neurons and Methods in Neuronal Modeling: From Ions to Networks, and served as editor for several books on neural modeling and information processing.

Visit Christof's Wikipedia page.

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