Moran Cerf

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Moran Cerf
Moran Cerf.jpg
Paris, France
CitizenshipFrench, Israeli
Alma materTel-Aviv University
OccupationNeuroscientist, hacker
Known forResearch on applications of neuroscience in business; Studying humans with electrodes inside their brain during surgery; Science consulting in films; brains; Dreams research; Free will; Consciousness; Neural correlates of engagement in the brain;
Net worthIncrease$12M (through B-Cube, January 2019)[1]

Moran Cerf is a French-Israeli neuroscientist, assistant professor of business (at the Kellogg School of Management), investor and a former hacker.[2][3]

He is the founder of Think-Alike and B-Cube and the host and curator of PopTech,[4][5] one of the top 5 leading conferences in the world.[6] Cerf is also the president and co-founder of the Human Single Neuron society.[7] As of 2013, he is a member of the Institute on complex systems.[8]

Cerf has received numerous awards including the Templeton Foundation "Extraordinary Minds" award, and the Chicagoan award. Recently, he was named one of the "40 leading professors below 40".[9] He has won several national storytelling competitions, notably, the Moth Grandslam, multiple times.

Cerf is the Alfred P. Sloan screenwriting professor at the American Film Institute (AFI) where he teaches an annual workshop on science in films.[10] He is also a science consultant to Hollywood films and TV series (Limitless, Bull, Falling Water, etc.).[11]

He has spoken publicly on topics of neuroscience, business, decision making and hacking (TED, PopTech, Google, TEDx, TED-Ed)[12] and his views on the risks of hacking into humans' brains are often appearing in the media.[13][14][5][15][16][17]

Early life and background[edit]

Moran Cerf was born in Paris, France, and raised in Israel. As a young kid, he was an art prodigy, studying in the Israeli School of Arts. He was a part of many Israeli kids TV shows and had a number of public appearances as a kid that garnered him attention in Israel. In 2002, he had one of the first podcasts in the world, where he hosted a weekly radio show.

As a young kid, Cerf became an avid programmer and was part of a small community of hackers that paved the road to online white hat hacking.[18][19][2]


Cerf holds a Bachelor of Science in Physics (1998–2000), and a Master's Degree in Philosophy (2000) from Tel-Aviv University.

In 2002, he received the prestigious Presidential Scholarship award in Israel while originally pursuing a Ph.D. in philosophy.[20] In 2005, he shifted to neuroscience and ultimately completed a Ph.D. in neuroscience at Caltech (2009).

While pursuing his studies, Cerf worked as a white hat hacker in the Israeli emerging Cybersecurity world,[21] performing penetration tests for banks and government institutes. He attributes much of his understanding of the brain and the way he researches the time spent breaking codes and performing penetration tests. A single meeting with the late Francis Crick where the two discussed the importance of “using hacking skills to study the most interesting vault in the world – our brain” made Prof. Cerf leave his senior business post and pursue full-time Ph.D. at Caltech, under Prof. Christof Koch.[19][22] He completed his Ph.D. at Caltech between the years 2005–2009 and worked on one of the flagship projects in neuroscience: “Single Neuron Recording in Humans”. The project involves studying humans using direct recordings from their brain while they are awake with electrodes implanted inside their heads. This unique research setup has garnered him worldwide recognition and resulted in some of the famous publications that positioned Cerf at the forefront of neuroscience research.[23]

Following his time at Caltech Professor Cerf has moved to NYU where he spent three years studying what makes content engaging and looking for ways to translate his neuroscience research to a broader audience. It is the time there that he attributes to his interest in finding ways to understand how to translate brain research to applications and the need to work together with the business world to communicate science.[24][25][26][3]

Following his time at NYU studying engagement, and with the growth of public attention to his work (partially due to his repeated nationwide wins of the Moth Grandslam story-telling competition,[27][28][29] where he discussed the behind the scenes of neuroscience), Prof. Cerf became a public figure in the science communication sphere and his talks garnered a large following.[30]

In 2014, Cerf was offered a job as a professor at the Kellogg School of Management, where he holds positions as both a business and neuroscience professor.[31]

In 2016, he joined the MIT Media Lab as a visiting professor where he started working on dream recording and manipulation.[32]

Notable research[edit]

Cerf is well known for his research on consciousness and projecting people's thoughts and dreams directly from their brain,[33][34][35] for his research on free will,[36] for his comments on the future of humans[37][38] and the ability to hack our brains, and for his recent work in business and neuroscience in marketing, where he found a way to predict people's interest and engagement with content by observing their neural responses.[39] For this work, he was named by Prof. Phil Kotler (father of modern marketing) “the next leader in marketing”.[40] He is a frequent contributor to “Business Insider”,[41][42]Forbes[43] and various other popular media journals where he writes about topics of neuroscience and business and ways to implement science in decision-making.[44][45][46][47]

In his 2016 TED talk, Cerf discussed a method for extraction of dreams which he is rumored to turn into a company, Dream-Alike. Similar mention of his work about projecting thoughts was later discussed in a blog post at ‘Wait But Why’.[48]


Prior to his academic career, Cerf held positions in pharmaceutical, telecommunications, fashion, software development, and innovative research fields.


Cerf spent nearly a decade working as a computer system hacker, breaking into financial and government institutes to test and improve their security.[49]

As a hacker, Cerf was first working for Check Point,[50] and later started his own for-hire ‘white hate’ hackers team that helped business secure their systems from malevolent hackers. His team later integrated into the ADC (Advanced Defense Center) at a then-startup company called Imperva (now a NASDAQ traded company) where Cerf ran the ADC and spent a number of years before leaving for academia, holding various managerial positions.[51]

Some of Cerf's stories about hacking and his experiences as a hacker were included in various films and became the basis for his worldwide acclaim.[52][20][53]


In an interview with Forbes, Professor Cerf attributed his hacking background to what made him a successful neuroscientist, suggesting that the ways he uses non-traditional tools to investigate the brain and the creative ways of thinking about black boxes borrow from his time breaking codes. Cerf is known for his pioneering work studying patients undergoing brain-surgery, which allows him to investigate behavior, emotion, decision making, and dreams by directly recording the activity of individual neurons using electrodes implanted in the patients' brain.[22][36][23][3]

As a business professor, Cerf's works look at the drivers of decision-making in consumer neuroscience and using neuro-marketing techniques to gain insights about consumer behavior.[54][55] He is an associate editor for several scholarly journals in both business and neuroscience and a consultant for companies that span a wide range of verticals, including automotive (Ferrari), Performance (Red Bull), Finances (TransUnion), and even relationships (Tinder).[56][35]


Since 2007, Cerf permanently held a position at the American Film Institute (AFI)[57] as the Alfred P. Sloan professor, where he teaches an annual workshop on science communication in film and TV. Through this workshop he worked on various films and TV shows[58][11] and organizes the annual Sloan seminar where he holds a public discussion on science communication with Hollywood figures such as Ann Druyan (‘Cosmos’),[59] Michelle Ashford (‘Master of Sex’), Whitney Cummings (‘Whitney’, ‘2 Broke Girls’),[60] Giancarlo Esposito (‘Breaking Bad’),[61] Jake Gyllenhaal (‘Donnie Darko’),[62] Len Mlodinow (ghost writer of Stephen Hawking's books and writer on 'MacGyver'), Andy Serkis[63] (‘King Kong’, Golum at ‘Lord of the Rings’), Michael Begler and Jack Amiel (‘The Knick’), Clifford Johnson (‘Genius’) and more.[10]


  • Competition and attention in the human brain: Single neuron recordings and eye-tracking in healthy controls and subjects with neurological and psychiatric disorders, Lap Lambert Academic Publishing, 2012, ISBN 9783844309591
  • Single Neuron Studies of the Human Brain: Probing Cognition, co-authored with Itzhak Fried and Ueli Rutishauser and Gabriel Kreiman, The MIT Press, 2014, ISBN 9780262323994
  • Consumer Neuroscience, MIT Press, 2017, ISBN 9780262036597
  • Foresight, Northwestern University, 2017, ISBN 978-1983736643

Awards and recognition[edit]

  • 2016: 40 leading professors below 40[8]
  • 2010, 2016: 2 times US champion of the Moth Grand-Slam[64]


Year Film
2016 Limitless
2016 Bull
2016 Mr. Robot
2016 Falling Water
2016 Clarity
2017 Impact Theory


In 2018, Cerf founded B-Cube, a non-profit that aims at helping organizations use advances in neuroscience to change behavior. While B-Cube's endeavors are not public, it is estimated that they invested shy of $12M in 2018 in their projects.[65] From their website, it seems that B-Cube has worked with Ferrari (on improving risk assessment in driving), with SS&C (on ways to improve learning in classrooms), with Viacom (on applications of neuroscience to entertainment) and with Founders Pledge (on using neuroscience for social good).[5]

Given that Cerf is the host and curator of PopTech,[4] responsible for their fellow's program, it was suggested that B-Cube may be involved in the PopTech mission for social good promotion through technology.

Cerf has spoken at the U.N and various organizations on ways to use neuroscience and research to promote young individuals’ rise out of poverty, on the ethics of using neuroscience to prevent threats to democracy and on the dangers of the attention economy.[54][66][67]

Personal life[edit]

Cerf's political affiliation is unknown although he has worked with the United States Digital Service (USDS) under President Obama, and continued working with 18F during the Trump administration. His work focused on a-political aspects of cybersecurity (a project known as ‘’).[68]

In 2017, Cerf dated actress Ashley Judd. They were last seen together at the Sundance Film Festival. In 2011–2012 Cerf dated actress Kristina Anapau (True Blood).[69] In 2016, Cerf was selected as one of Elle Magazine’s most eligible bachelors.[70]

In his free time, Cerf is a pilot (Private Jets and Helicopters).[2]

Board and other posts[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "About Us". Founders Pledge. Retrieved January 29, 2019.
  2. ^ a b c Limone, Noa (January 6, 2012). "Israeli Hacker Turned Brain Researcher Making Waves". Haaretz.
  3. ^ a b c "Kellogg Professor blends business and neuroscience to gain fascinating insights". MBA Crystal Ball. July 29, 2016.
  4. ^ a b "Moran Cerf-PopTech".
  5. ^ a b c Klein Leichman, Abigail (January 15, 2019). "How hacking the human brain can improve how we think and learn". ISRAEL21c.
  6. ^ "5 Of The Most Inspiring Conferences Of 2018". Forbes. December 13, 2018.
  7. ^ "Human Single Neuron Society".
  8. ^ a b "Moran Cerf - CDI". Ciudad de las Ideas. April 13, 2016.
  9. ^ Carter, Andrew. "2016 Best 40 Under 40 Professors: Moran Cerf, Kellogg School of Management". Poets and Quants.
  10. ^ a b "American Film Institute - Alfred P. Sloan Foundation". American Film Institute.
  11. ^ a b "Moran Cerf Faculty - Kellogg School of Management". Northwestern University.
  12. ^ "TED16 - Moran Cerf". TED (conference).
  13. ^ "Hacking the Brain to Find Ourselves". Chicago Council S&T. October 6, 2016.
  14. ^ "Commentary: There's Still Time to Stop the Tech Monopoly Takeover". Fortune. March 8, 2018.
  15. ^ "Embrace the wisdom of the machine". The Times. September 16, 2018.
  16. ^ "Moran Cerf and the Nature of Dream Recording". PLOS. August 28, 2012.
  17. ^ Segall, Laurie (January 17, 2019). "6 Tech Leaders on What They Fear the Most". Time.
  18. ^ C. Wolcott, Robert (May 9, 2017). "Hackers, Empathy And Neuroscience: A Conversation With Moran Cerf". Forbes.
  19. ^ a b Sherwood, Christina (July 15, 2013). "Q&A: Moran Cerf, hacker-turned-neuroscientist, on controlling the human brain". ZDNet.
  20. ^ a b "Prof. Moran Cerf - Professor of Neuroscience". Cyber Monday.
  21. ^ "How to Improve Cybersecurity? Just Eliminate the Human Factor". The Wall Street Journal. January 18, 2016.
  22. ^ a b "Real Life Inception – From Bank Robbery to Neuroscience with Dr. Moran Cerf". The Science of Success Podcast. June 28, 2018.
  23. ^ a b "How to Bend Reality to Your Will and Become Unstoppable". Impact Theory. January 10, 2017.
  24. ^ "Post-Doctoral Scholar Moran Cerf on his neuroscience research". NYU Stern School of Business. September 13, 2011.
  25. ^ "Moran Cerf - Finding Fear". The Story Collider. June 12, 2014.
  26. ^ "Marketing Professors Given $1.1 Million Grant from NIH to Study the Efficacy of Anti-Drug Ads". NYU Stern School of Business. October 5, 2010.
  27. ^ "The Moth Presents Moran Cerf: When In Rome". YouTube. May 16, 2013.
  28. ^ "The Moth Presents Moran Cerf: On Human (and) Nature". YouTube. August 24, 2012.
  29. ^ "The Moth: When in Rome - Moran Cerf". YouTube. October 20, 2014.
  30. ^ "Moran Cerf - The Moth". The Moth.
  31. ^ "Moran Cerf Ph.D - NUIN". Northwestern University.
  32. ^ "Moran Cerf – MIT Media Lab". MIT Media Lab.
  33. ^ "The Man Who Could Record Your Dreams". KCRW. March 13, 2012.
  34. ^ "Neuron Recordings Capture Brain Focus on Josh Brolin". Wired.
  35. ^ a b "The next Hollywood movie may be coming to you in your sleep". ISRAEL21c. January 14, 2018.
  36. ^ a b Solon, Olivia (October 17, 2013). "Moran Cerf: our brain is the puppeteer, we are simply agents - Wired 2013 video". Wired.
  37. ^ "How Your Brain Could Teach You To Fly". Chicago Ideas.
  38. ^ Levy, Jon (February 27, 2019). "Hacking Into The Human Brain Could Create Superhumans. Here's How". Forbes.
  39. ^ Harrell, Eben (January 23, 2019). "Neuromarketing: What You Need to Know". Harvard Business Review.
  40. ^ Consumer Neuroscience. MIT Press. 2017-11-16. ISBN 9780262036597.
  41. ^ "Neuroscience Goes To The Super Bowl: Historic Game Firsts Beat The Ads On Engagement". Forbes. February 6, 2017.
  42. ^ "A neuroscientist explains why he always picks the 2nd menu item on a list of specials". Business Insider. July 28, 2017.
  43. ^ "New Neuroscience Study Reveals What Worry About Money Does To Your Brain". Forbes. November 28, 2017.
  44. ^ "Controlling Your World With a Single Neuron". Time Magazine. October 29, 2010.
  45. ^ "Forget Inception, Try Extraction: Dream Recorder is 'Possible'". News Feed. October 29, 2010.
  46. ^ "Being John Malkovich: Personal Control of Individual Brain Cells". Scientific American. March 1, 2011.
  47. ^ "People Are Having Disturbingly Similar Dreams About Donald Trump". BuzzFeed. November 8, 2016.
  48. ^ "Neuralink and the Brain's Magical Future (G-Rated Version)". Wait But Why. April 20, 2017.
  49. ^ "Hacking into the brain to change human behaviour". Perspectives Pictet. August 21, 2017.
  50. ^ "Israeli Hacker Turned Brain Researcher Making Waves". Haaretz. January 6, 2012.
  51. ^ "Moran Cerf - Digital Life Design". Digital Life Design.
  52. ^ "This Neuroscientist Thinks He Knows the Future of Human Evolution, and It Will Surprise and Inspire You". Inc. September 19, 2017.
  53. ^ "Monitoring Moviegoers' Brains Can Predict Box Office Success". Northwestern University. August 3, 2017.
  54. ^ a b "NTI Seminar: Neuroscientist Moran Cerf on How the Brain Processes Risk". Nuclear Threat Initiative. December 21, 2018.
  55. ^ "A neuroscientist who studies decision-making reveals the 6 most important choices you can make". Business Insider. October 1, 2017.
  56. ^ "The Hacker-Turned-Neuroscientist Who Can Read Your Mind". Think Works.
  57. ^ "MASTERS OF SEX creator Michelle Ashford on replicating "The Ulysses"". American Film Institute.
  58. ^ "Brain Dead: Interview with Dr. Moran Cerf". Sloan Science & Film. July 20, 2017.
  59. ^ "Writer and Director Ann Druyan describes Seth MacFarlane's contributions to the 2014 COSMOS Series". American Film Institute.
  60. ^ "Whitney Cummings + Moran Cerf: The Future of The Female Brain". Rubin Museum of Art.
  61. ^ "The Actor: Giancarlo Esposito + Moran Cerf". Rubin Museum of Art.
  62. ^ "An Actor's Dream Jake Gyllenhaal + Moran Cerf". Rubin Museum of Art.
  63. ^ "Andy Serkis on Finding Gollum's Voice". American Film Institute.
  64. ^ "Moran Cerf - World Science Festival". World Science Festival.
  65. ^ "About Us". Founders Pledge. Retrieved 2019-02-27.
  66. ^ "UNESCO hosts debate on ethics of new technologies and artificial intelligence "Tech Futures: Hope or Fear?"". UNESCO. January 18, 2019.
  67. ^ "6 Tech Leaders on What They Fear the Most". Time. January 17, 2019.
  68. ^ "Meet the Fellows - Presidential Innovation Fellows". Presidential Innovation Fellows.
  69. ^ "Big Island Girl Kristina Anapau in TONIGHT'S TRUE BLOOD Episode… "Maurella"". Damon Tucker.
  70. ^ "Meet's 41 Most Eligible Bachelors". Elle. February 14, 2015.

External links[edit]