Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Image Analysis & "The Illusion of Consciousness"

I just watched an interesting TED talk on "The Illusion of Consciousness". He basically discusses optical illusions, and how our brain fills in detail without us realizing it.

As a commentary on the talk itself, I think that using optical illusions is interesting in order to study consciousness, but the speaker didn't really make any solid argument that consciousness is an illusion; rather, he simply seemed to say that our eyes interpolate detail for interpretation.

But that's not the focus of this post.

As an image analysis engineer, I have a different commentary. What's really important is the challenge that our brains' interpretation of our eyes' data presents for image analysis engineers.

This is a screenshot from the talk:

Our brain somehow knows that these pixels represent a face, and a specific, well known face at that. But try training a computer to recognize that. It only contains maybe a few hundred grey values in a specific order. We organize that information in our brain to interpret it as a face at a given angle, rotate it mentally, and perform a content based image retrieval from a database in our heads of known faces.

Understanding how we interpret our eyes' data will be instrumental in taking image analysis technology to the next level.

This is why image analysis hasn't replaced human observers quite yet. A pathologist looking at a cell slide can immediately interpret that slide as tumor or non-tumor. We are trying to train computers to follow the steps the pathologist mentally performs. But the pathologist doesn't necessarily know how he interprets the image, which frustrates us engineers who need to train a computer to replicate those precise steps.

When we look at an MRI brain scan, we can interpret it as a single object.

We can even know that the edges represent the same concepts at different parts of the image.


However, different spots on those borders have very different shades of grey. Our brains know they represent the same type of object, but computers are not so good at that yet.

That's just one example of how computers are trying to catch up to our brains.

Not to say that there aren't clever methods such as sophisticated edge detection algorithms, intensity normalization, curvature flow algorithms, etc. (both proprietary algorithms in companies' R&D departments as well as in public academic literature). But a lot of image analysis research has to do with teaching computers to do things which our brains already do so naturally, and quickly.

And more importantly, these tools are simply trying to replicate specific steps our brains take, whereas the actual order of which steps to take, and how analyzing an image with those specific steps, will result in a proper interpretation. In that area, very little research even comes close to learning the proper steps. The closest we've come to that is Deep Learning, but interestingly enough, the most creative thing that our most talented engineers at Google could come up with, is to try to replicate our existing biological neurons. At its essence, Deep Learning is still just another way we are trying to copy nature.

Computer vision is an area of active research and will be for many years to come; it's something to which I have dedicated my career. But perhaps if we understood ourselves and how our minds work a bit better, it would pave the way for exciting new tools which could be used to better thwart terrorism or heal the sick (the most typical use of image analysis technology).

Monday, July 28, 2014

Visualizing 5D

How would one go about visualizing the fifth dimension? Or, more specifically, how would our four dimensional universe look, from a higher dimension?

Let's start with a simple timeline.

In this example, the dark blue represents a one dimensional timeline. To the left represents the past, and to the right represents the future.

What if we wanted to include a spatial dimension to this timeline?

As previously, the left represents the past and to the right represents the future. But we can now take into account a single spatial dimension as representing top and bottom. Maybe that dimension is the distance from the earth.

Extending that idea further, let's add another spatial dimension.

For visualization purposes, if we pretend for a second that the universe only has two spatial dimensions, like a movie, then this is the entire history of the universe represented as a solid object. We've basically replaced a spatial third dimension with time.

Your lifetime would be represented as a section of this object.

A moment in time capturing the universe exactly as it stands right now would simply be a slice of this object.

That slice would represent the exact position of the galaxies, the earth, etc., like a photograph.

What if we lived in the fifth dimension and could change the four dimensional universe?

We could push on one side of it.

We could shape it as we saw fit. One change at one section, would change the entire set of past events and future events. The position of the galaxies, the consequences of all of our decisions, could be completely different.

Taking a slice out of the future of this changed universe would be very different from the future of a non-changed universe.

In fact, the universe itself could be sculpted as one saw fit. Each possible sculpture would represent a possible universe, from the big bang to the big crunch, at the will of a fifth dimension.

Final note for fun: an animated sculpture, with the universe morphing, could represent a multiverse.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Proving the Existence of a Soul

I had a thought regarding how physicists or mathematicians could theoretically prove the existence of a soul, or "outside observer" to our life experiences.

Definition: Let “memory” be defined as a unique combination of photons hitting our eyes.

Definition: Let “neuronal configuration” be defined as a unique combination of the neurons. That configuration is defined by the biochemical levels in each neuron, the precise synapses and their associated connections to and from each neuron, hormonal levels in the blood, etc. Essentially a unique combination of atoms in our brain.

Definition: Let “S{neuronal configuration}” be the set of all possible neuronal configurations.

Definition: Let “S{memory}” be the set of all possible memories.

Assumption: Two memories of two different events (defined by photons hitting our eyes) are experienced differently.

Assumption: Light hitting our eyes can change our neurons based on our interpretation.

Null Hypothesis: Our memories are defined solely by a “neuronal configuration”.

If |S{memory}| < |S{neuronal configuration}| then each memory can possibly be defined by a unique neuronal configuration.

If |S{memory}| > |S{neuronal configuration}| then a given neuronal configuration cannot be used to completely define a memory. This is only possible if there is an outside observer and P( Null Hypothesis ) = 0. This would prove the existence of an outside observer.

Back to Blogging

I was thinking of starting up blogging again. I have a lot of thoughts and I think this would be a good medium to parse through them. If anything, for fear of being morbid, at least it will be a record of my experiences and views on the world for after I'm gone.

So since the last entry, I received my Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering (Dr. Rob now!) and started a company Toth Technology LLC. We'll see how things go, but I'm excited about the future.