Tom Burns

Postdoc — Cornell,
BSc(Hons), MBioethics, MPhil, PhD

Who is Tom Burns?

Tom Burns is an Australian researcher working primarily in the fields of AI, neuroscience, and philosophy. His research has been published in peer-reviewed venues such as ICLR & ICML, he has worked at universities like Cornell, Monash, & Brown, and he has been recognised by global institutions such as the World Health Organization & the Royal Commonwealth Society.

In 2013, I completed a Bachelor of Science with First Class Honours at Monash University, Australia. My thesis focused on how humans perceive non-linguistic sounds and how these perceptions relate to a sound's mathematical or statistical features. In 2014, I took a sea change from science to pursue my interest in philosophy and ethics, completing a Master of Bioethics. As part of this course, I produced a thesis which analysed the ethics of proposed euthanasia legislation in Australian jurisdictions.

I was awarded a World Health Organization Bioethics Fellowship in 2015, which led to me spending time at the World Health Organization headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. There I contributed towards bioethical analysis of the Ebola epidemic response in West Africa.

In late 2015, I began a Master of Philosophy by Research at Monash University, Australia. My thesis focused on electrophysiological signals from neocortex in response to stimuli and trauma, specifically in rat barrel cortex. During this time, I also served as president of the Students of Brain Research Network and co-founded the student body of the Australasian Neuroscience Society, serving as its inaugural chair.

In 2018, I became a PhD student at Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology (OIST) Graduate University, Japan. My thesis, titled 'Geometry and Topology in Memory and Navigation', used tools and insights from geometry and topology to improve understanding of and performance in natural and artificial intelligence systems.

From September to December 2023, I was a Fall Semester Postdoc for the 'Math + Neuroscience: Strengthening the Interplay Between Theory and Mathematics' program at the Institute for Computational and Experimental Research in Mathematics (ICERM), Brown University, USA. From January to March 2024, I was a researcher at Timaeus, an AI safety organisation. As of March 2024, I am a post-doc at Cornell University's new SciAI Center.

My research interests include AI safety and interpretability, associative memory, connections between neuroscience and AI, as well as the development and application of ideas from higher mathematics in these areas.