Research Process at Numenta: Peer-Review and Publishing

Brev Patterson • Engineering & Design

I’ve spent the past 4 years here at Numenta working on developing and designing
example applications and websites related to our Machine Intelligence
technology. This continues my long career path of developing software products
and user experiences. But, here at Numenta, I had the wonderful opportunity to
experience something new: serious, cutting-edge scientific research.

For almost a decade, this small Numenta team has been developing a working
theory of how intelligence is realized by the human brain.
Hierarchical Temporal Memory (HTM) is our theory of how neurons and the
architecture of the neocortex produce real-time learning, pattern detection and
prediction, and ground-breaking anomaly detection. During this time we have
been focused heavily on research, theory, and software development. You can now
run HTM on your own computer with our open-source machine learning library,
NuPIC (the Numenta Platform for Intelligent Computing), or try out one of
our intelligent example applications like HTM Studio.

Last year we felt that it was important to communicate our theories and engage
in a dialog with the scientific community. As such, we decided to submit our
research for peer-review, and to publish our work in major neuroscience-related
journals. We have been looking forward to this milestone for a long time, as
have many of our partners, customers, developers, and friends. Our new
Research Papers page showcases the results of our work in this area. Here
you can find new peer-reviewed published content, conference papers and posters,
and academic pre-print links (such as arXiv and bioRxiv).

What does it take to get a modern scientific paper peer-reviewed, and published
in a journal?
I was very curious about how this process worked when I started
at Numenta. I had read many peer-reviewed articles before, but had never been
on the other side of the process. In order to find out, I’ve been observing
Numenta’s Research team in action, taking notes, and performing interviews.

Our process, which is fairly standard in academia, follows four
general steps which are detailed below: Writing, Submission, Review,
and Acceptance.

Numenta Research and Writing Process Diagram

Step 1 – Writing

The writing process starts with researching a topic, such as
how the neocortex learns sequences of patterns. As the topic is selected,
the author will also explore where they may want to eventually publish their new
work: in a peer-reviewed journal, at a conference poster session, on a pre-print
server, or even as a simple blog post. When considering journals, in line with
our open research policy, we have decided to publish only in those
journals that offer free open access to papers.

The hardest part of the entire process, the writing, begins in earnest. Outlines
and drafts are produced, which are reviewed with plenty of constructive
feedback. For a serious scientific paper, the author must perform careful rounds
of “Literature Research” in order to understand and report on what previous
authors have published on the same topic. This helps prevent wasted effort, and
can keep focus on unexplored subtopics.

After many heavy rounds of iteration, the text begins to solidify. Visual charts
and diagrams, even example source code, (“Simulations”), are added to support
the paper. As the new document is nearing completion, it will pass through final
rounds of internal review and revision, and finally, “Internal Acceptance”.

Step 2 – Submission

The author will submit the new paper to the publishing targets they selected
earlier. In modern times, this means creating website accounts to get access to
the publisher’s online tools.

The new paper must be put into a high-quality format, as per specifications from
the publisher. All documents, text, and imagery are uploaded to the submission
website. The author must enter metadata about their new document, such as paper
title, description, keywords, and other helpful details.

A unique cover letter is sent with the upload, informing the publishing Editor
of the seminal nature of the work, along with any time-sensitive requirements.
The author suggests peers who would both be preferred, and not preferred, to
perform the review (it is up to the Editor to decide whether to take this
advice). The author also declares any conflicts of interest that relate to the
paper, peers, or topic.

Once the final upload is submitted, the Publisher will validate that everything
is complete. Then, the waiting begins. It can take several months for the
Publisher to fully process your submission. Eventually, the Publisher will reply
with either a negative “Reject” or positive “Review” response. (For a pre-print
server like arXiv, there is no further review, and this is the end of the

Step 3 – Review

It’s a wonderful accomplishment to be accepted for Review, but now the work is
just getting started. The peer reviewers will often suggest changes to your
paper, requiring rewriting and resubmission. This iterative cycle is may be
repeated several times.

This can be a frustrating stage, involving empty periods of waiting, alternating
with busy periods of deep, rapid change, lasting in total for several months or
sometimes even a year.

Step 4 – Acceptance

Eventually, the author, reviewers, and publisher will agree that the paper is
finished. The author validates a “Final Proof” which is uploaded to the
publisher. This document is what is used in the final reproduction. Lastly, a
final publishing fee is paid online, and the publisher accepts the paper.

Depending on the publisher, a few weeks to months later, the final paper will be
released. After what has likely been more than a year of work, the authors and
team can share the results of labor with the world.

Having our research reviewed and published by our peers is a great
accomplishment for us. It can be a long and difficult process. But, with lots of
hard work, steady perseverance, and a little luck, we have found the results to
be well worth the effort. We hope that you will too.

As always, our theory and research are open to the community, so we hope
that you’ll join us in our progress. Thanks for reading about research at

Brev Patterson • Engineering & Design

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