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JPEG for the mind: How the brain compresses visual information
Date:2/10/2011

Most of us are familiar with the idea of image compression in computers. File extensions like ".jpg" or ".png" signify that millions of pixel values have been compressed into a more efficient format, reducing file size by a factor of 10 or more with little or no apparent change in image quality. The full set of original pixel values would occupy too much space in computer memory and take too long to transmit across networks.

The brain is faced with a similar problem. The images captured by light-sensitive cells in the retina are on the order of a megapixel. The brain does not have the transmission or memory capacity to deal with a lifetime of megapixel images. Instead, the brain must select out only the most vital information for understanding the visual world.

In today's online issue of Current Biology, a Johns Hopkins team led by neuroscientists Ed Connor and Kechen Zhang describes what appears to be the next step in understanding how the brain compresses visual information down to the essentials.

They found that cells in area "V4," a midlevel stage in the primate brain's object vision pathway, are highly selective for image regions containing acute curvature. Experiments by doctoral student Eric Carlson showed that V4 cells are very responsive to sharply curved or angled edges, and much less responsive to flat edges or shallow curves.

To understand how selectivity for acute curvature might help with compression of visual information, co-author Russell Rasquinha (now at University of Toronto) created a computer model of hundreds of V4-like cells, training them on thousands of natural object images. After training, each image evoked responses from a large proportion of the virtual V4 cells -- the opposite of a compressed format. And, somewhat surprisingly, these virtual V4 cells responded mostly to flat edges and shallow curvatures, just the opposite of what was observed for real V4 cells.

The results w
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Contact: Lisa DeNike
Lde@jhu.edu
443-287-9960
Johns Hopkins University
Source:Eurekalert  

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