Karl J. Friston

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Karl Friston
Karl John Friston

(1959-07-12) 12 July 1959 (age 64)[3]
York, England
EducationGonville and Caius College, Cambridge (BA, 1980)
Known forStatistical parametric mapping, voxel-based morphometry, dynamic causal modelling, free energy principle, active inference
SpouseAnn Elisabeth Leonard[3]
Scientific career
FieldsNeuroscience, Mathematical and theoretical biology, Variational Bayesian methods
InstitutionsUniversity College London[2]

Karl John Friston FRS FMedSci FRSB (born 12 July 1959) is a British neuroscientist and theoretician at University College London. He is an authority on brain imaging and theoretical neuroscience, especially the use of physics-inspired statistical methods to model neuroimaging data and other random dynamical systems.[2][4][5][6][7][8][9][10] Friston is a key architect of the free energy principle and active inference. In imaging neuroscience he is best known for statistical parametric mapping and dynamic causal modelling. In October 2022, he joined VERSES Inc, a California-based cognitive computing company focusing on artificial intelligence designed using the principles of active inference, as Chief Scientist.

Friston is one of the most highly cited living scientists[11] and in 2016 was ranked No. 1 by Semantic Scholar in the list of top 10 most influential neuroscientists.[12]


Karl Friston attended the Ellesmere Port Grammar School, later renamed Whitby Comprehensive, from 1970 to 1977. Friston studied natural sciences (physics and psychology) at the University of Cambridge in 1980, and completed his medical studies at King's College Hospital, London.[3]


Friston subsequently qualified under the Oxford University Rotational Training Scheme in Psychiatry, and is now a professor of neuroscience at University College London.[13] He was a Wellcome Trust Principal Fellow and is currently Scientific Director of the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging.[14] He also holds an honorary consultant post at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery. He invented statistical parametric mapping: SPM is an international standard for analysing imaging data and rests on the general linear model and random field theory (developed with Keith Worsley). In 1994 his group developed voxel-based morphometry.[15] VBM detects differences in neuroanatomy and is used clinically and as a surrogate in genetic studies.

These technical contributions were motivated by schizophrenia research and theoretical studies of value-learning (with Gerry Edelman). In 1995, this work was formulated as the dysconnection hypothesis of schizophrenia (with Chris Frith). In 2003, he invented dynamic causal modelling (DCM), which is used to infer the architecture of distributed systems like the brain. Mathematical contributions include Variational Laplace[16] and Generalized filtering, which use variational Bayesian methods for time-series analysis. Friston is principally known for models of functional integration in the human brain and the principles that underlie neuronal interactions. His main contribution to theoretical neurobiology is a variational free energy principle[17] (Active inference in the Bayesian brain[18]). According to Google Scholar, Friston's h-index is 263.[2]

In 2020 he applied dynamic causal modelling as a Systems biology approach to Epidemiological modelling.[19] He subsequently became a member of Independent SAGE, an independent, public-facing alternative to the COVID-19 pandemic government advisory body Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies.

In 2022, Friston became the Chief Scientist at the California-based artificial intelligence company VERSES.

Awards and achievements[edit]

In 1996, Friston received the first Young Investigators Award in Human Brain Mapping, and was elected a Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences (1999) in recognition of contributions to the bio-medical sciences. In 2000 he was President of the international Organization for Human Brain Mapping. In 2003 he was awarded the Minerva Golden Brain Award and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 2006 and received a Collège de France Medal in 2008. His nomination for the Royal Society reads

Karl Friston pioneered and developed the single most powerful technique for analysing the results of brain imaging studies and unravelling the patterns of cortical activity and the relationship of different cortical areas to one another. Currently over 90% of papers published in brain imaging use his method (SPM or Statistical Parametric Mapping) and this approach is now finding more diverse applications, for example, in the analysis of EEG and MEG data. His method has revolutionised studies of the human brain and given us profound insights into its operations. None has had as major an influence as Friston on the development of human brain studies in the past twenty-five years.[1]

He became a Fellow of the Royal Society of Biology in 2012, received the Weldon Memorial Prize and Medal in 2013 for contributions to mathematical biology and was elected as a member of EMBO in 2014 and the Academia Europaea in 2015. He was the 2016 recipient of the Charles Branch Award for unparalleled breakthroughs in Brain Research and the Glass Brain Award from the Organization for Human Brain Mapping. He holds Honorary Doctorates from the universities of York, Zurich, Liège and Radboud University.


  1. ^ a b "EC/2006/16: Friston, Karl John". London: The Royal Society. Archived from the original on 29 March 2017.
  2. ^ a b c Karl J. Friston publications indexed by Google Scholar
  3. ^ a b c "FRISTON, Prof. Karl John". Who's Who 2014, A & C Black, an imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing plc, 2014; online edn, Oxford University Press.(subscription required)
  4. ^ Friston, K (2003). "Learning and inference in the brain". Neural Networks. 16 (9): 1325–52. CiteSeerX doi:10.1016/j.neunet.2003.06.005. PMID 14622888. S2CID 17163442.
  5. ^ Friston, K (2002). "Functional integration and inference in the brain". Progress in Neurobiology. 68 (2): 113–43. doi:10.1016/s0301-0082(02)00076-x. PMID 12450490. S2CID 7203119.
  6. ^ Friston, K (2005). "A theory of cortical responses". Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. 360 (1456): 815–36. doi:10.1098/rstb.2005.1622. PMC 1569488. PMID 15937014.
  7. ^ Karl J. Friston's publications indexed by the Scopus bibliographic database. (subscription required)
  8. ^ Penny, W; Ghahramani, Z; Friston, K (2005). "Bilinear dynamical systems". Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological Sciences. 360 (1457): 983–93. doi:10.1098/rstb.2005.1642. PMC 1854926. PMID 16087442. Open access icon
  9. ^ Harrison, L. M.; David, O; Friston, K. J. (2005). "Stochastic models of neuronal dynamics". Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological Sciences. 360 (1457): 1075–91. doi:10.1098/rstb.2005.1648. PMC 1854931. PMID 16087449.
  10. ^ David, O; Harrison, L; Friston, K. J. (2005). "Modelling event-related responses in the brain". NeuroImage. 25 (3): 756–70. doi:10.1016/j.neuroimage.2004.12.030. PMID 15808977. S2CID 11725486.
  11. ^ "Highly Cited Researchers (h>100) according to their Google Scholar Citations public profiles". Retrieved 28 July 2022.
  12. ^ Bohannon, John (11 November 2016). "A computer program just ranked the most influential brain scientists of the modern era". sciencemag.org. Retrieved 5 January 2017.
  13. ^ "Iris View Profile". University College London. Retrieved 20 July 2014.
  14. ^ "Professor Karl Friston – Selected papers". {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  15. ^ Wright, I.C. (1995). "A Voxel-Based Method for the Statistical Analysis of Gray and White Matter Density Applied to Schizophrenia". NeuroImage. 2 (4): 244–252. doi:10.1006/nimg.1995.1032. PMID 9343609. S2CID 45664559.
  16. ^ K Friston, J Mattout, N Trujillo-Barreto, J Ashburner, and W Penny, "Variational free energy and the Laplace approximation," NeuroImage, vol. 34, no. 1, pp. 220-34, 2007
  17. ^ Raviv, Shaun (13 November 2018). "The Genius Neuroscientist Who Might Hold the Key to True AI". WIRED. Retrieved 16 November 2018.
  18. ^ Friston, Karl (2018). "Of woodlice and men: A Bayesian account of cognition, life and consciousness. An interview with Karl Friston (by Martin Fortier & Daniel Friedman)". ALIUS Bulletin. 2: 17–43.
  19. ^ Spinney, Laura (31 May 2020). "Covid-19 expert Karl Friston: "Germany may have more immunological "dark matter""". The Guardian. Retrieved 8 April 2021.

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