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Mimicking how the brain recognizes street scenes

At last, neuroscience is having an impact on computer science and artificial intelligence (AI). For the first time, scientists in Tomaso Poggio's laboratory at the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT applied a computational model of how the brain processes visual information to a complex, real world task: recognizing the objects in a busy street scene. The researchers were pleasantly surprised at the power of this new approach.

"People have been talking about computers imitating the brain for a long time," said Poggio, who is also the Eugene McDermott Professor in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences and the co-director of the Center for Biological and Computational Learning at MIT. "That was Alan Turing's original motivation in the 1940s. But in the last 50 years, computer science and AI have developed independently of neuroscience. Our work is biologically inspired computer science."

"We developed a model of the visual system that was meant to be useful for neuroscientists in designing and interpreting experiments, but that also could be used for computer science," said Thomas Serre, a former PhD student and now a post-doctoral researcher in Poggio's lab and lead author a paper about the street scene application in the 2007 IEEE Transactions on Pattern Analysis and Machine Intelligence. "We chose street scene recognition as an example because it has a restricted set of object categories, and it has practical social applications."

Near-term applications include surveillance and automobile driver's assistance, and eventually visual search engines, biomedical imaging analysis, robots with realistic vision. On the neuroscience end, this research is essential for designing augmented sensory prostheses, such as one that could replicate the computations carried by damaged nerves from the retina. "And once you have a good model of how the human brain works," Serre explained, "you can break it to mimic a brain disorder.
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Contact: Laurie Ledeen
ledeen@mit.edu
617-324-0134
McGovern Institute for Brain Research
7-Feb-2007


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