At first it looked as if the suddenly hot field of neural networks would stand as testimony to the benefits of cooperation and teamwork. Interdisciplinary research—still an avant-garde concept in many disciplines—was the norm, with neurobiologists, chemists, physicists, computer scientists, and psychologists working together to advance the field. Experimental insights into the behavior of nerve cells were inspiring improved computer control of robot arms, while differential equations penned by a mathematician were generating new understsndings of the organization of the brain.

But when it came time to leave the lab and decide who would organize the conferences and publish the journals, the cooperation ceased and the competition began. Neural networks—once an unheralded discipline on the margins of science without a society to call its own—has become the focus of a custody battle between two organizations eager to share in the field’s newly found popularity. And while joint custody is likely,...

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