What’s the difference between human eyes and computer vision? [The Next Web]

a pair of human eyeballs
May 24, 2021

The correct answer is: squishiness

Story by Ben Dickson

Since the early years of artificial intelligence, scientists have dreamed of creating computers that can “see” the world. As vision plays a key role in many things we do every day, cracking the code of computer vision seemed to be one of the major steps toward developing artificial general intelligence.

But like many other goals in AI, computer vision has proven to be easier said than done. In 1966, scientists at MIT launched “The Summer Vision Project,” a two-month effort to create a computer system that could identify objects and background areas in images. But it took much more than a summer break to achieve those goals. In fact, it wasn’t until the early 2010s that image classifiers and object detectors were flexible and reliable enough to be used in mainstream applications.

In the past decades, advances in machine learning and neuroscience have helped make great strides in computer vision. But we still have a long way to go before we can build AI systems that see the world as we do.

Biological and Computer Vision, a book by Harvard Medical University Professor Gabriel Kreiman, provides an accessible account of how humans and animals process visual data and how far we’ve come toward replicating these functions in computers.

Kreiman’s book helps understand the differences between biological and computer vision. The book details how billions of years of evolution have equipped us with a complicated visual processing system, and how studying it has helped inspire better computer vision algorithms. Kreiman also discusses what separates contemporary computer vision systems from their biological counterpart.

While I would recommend a full read of Biological and Computer Vision to anyone who is interested in the field, I’ve tried here (with some help from Gabriel himself) to lay out some of my key takeaways from the book.

Hardware differences

In the introduction to Biological and Computer Vision, Kreiman writes, “I am particularly excited about connecting biological and computational circuits. Biological vision is the product of millions of years of evolution. There is no reason to reinvent the wheel when developing computational models. We can learn from how biology solves vision problems and use the solutions as inspiration to build better algorithms.”

And indeed, the study of the visual cortex has been a great source of inspiration for computer vision and AI. But before being able to digitize vision, scientists had to overcome the huge hardware gap between biological and computer vision. Biological vision runs on an interconnected network of cortical cells and organic neurons. Computer vision, on the other hand, runs on electronic chips composed of transistors...

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