OBJECT AND SCENE VISION: POPULATION CODING, ALGORITHMS, DEEP NETWORKS, PROSTHETICS
- Deciphering neural population codes for structure, material, physics, utility
- Tracing neural algorithms for transforming images into visual information
- Using biological principles to advance deep network computer vision
- Using coding principles to design prosthetic interfaces
Vision is your superpower. At a glance, you can tell where you are, what is around you, what just happened, and what is about to happen. You effortlessly perceive the precise 3D structure of things in your environment, at distances ranging from millimeters to miles. You know what things are called, how valuable they are, how old or new, fresh or rotten, strong or weak. You intuit their material, mechanical, and energetic properties, allowing you to anticipate and alter physical events. You effectively read the minds of other humans and animals based on tiny variations in facial configuration and body pose. A picture is worth many times a thousand words to you.
All this information seems to exist outside you, immediately and effortlessly available. Understanding what you see seems trivial—you only have to look at it! We are so good at vision that we tend not to recognize it as an ability or a process of any kind. But in fact it is one of the most difficult things the brain does. Computer vision, even with deep networks, has not even begun to approach the kind of visual understanding that comes so easily to us. Computers can beat us at math, chess, go, and jeopardy, but they cannot understand the visual world the way we do.
Our visual appreciation of the world emerges from networks of billions of neurons in the ventral visual pathway of the brain. Our lab studies neural information processing in the intermediate and higher level stages of this pathway. We want to understand how the ventral pathway transforms images into knowledge about the world. Images are just 2D arrays of numerical values corresponding to pigment intensities, pixel colors, or photoreceptor activations in the eye. You could not deduce what is in an image from the numerical values themselves, but that is effectively what the brain must do with neural signals coming from the eyes. If we could decipher how the brain does this on the algorithmic level, we could use the same principles to build computer vision systems with human-like capabilities. We could develop prosthetic interfaces for blind patients that hijack the mechanisms of the ventral pathway to induce vivid visual experiences. And, we would understand the substrate for our rich, detailed, aesthetic experiences of the visual world.
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Connor, C.E. (2007) Transformation of shape information in the ventral pathway. Current Opinion in Neurobiology 17: 140–147.
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Connor, C.E. (2005) Friends and grandmothers. Nature 435: 1036–1037.
Brincat, S.L. & Connor, C.E. (2004) Underlying principles of visual shape selectivity in posterior inferotemporal cortex. Nature Neuroscience 7: 880–886.
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Connor, C.E. (2002) Reconstructing a 3D world. Science 298: 376–377.
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Pasupathy, A. & Connor, C.E. (1999) Responses to contour features in macaque area V4. Journal of Neurophysiology 82: 2490–2502.