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AT. Memo No.1404 December 1993 

C.B.C.L. Paper No. 77 

Observations on Cortical Mechanisms for 
Object Recognition and Learning 

Tomaso Poggio and Anya Hurlbert 


This paper sketches several aspects of a hypothetical cortical architecture for visual object recognition, 
based on a recent computational model. The scheme relies on modules for learning from examples, such as 
Hyperbf-like networks, as its basic components. Such models are not intended to be precise theories of the 
biological circuitry but rather to capture a class of explanations we call Memory-Based Models (MBM) 
that contains sparse population coding, memory-based recognition and codebooks of prototypes. Unlike 
the sigmoidal units of some artificial neural networks, the units of MBMs are consistent with the usual 
description of cortical neurons as tuned to multidimensional optimal stimuli. We will describe how an 
example of MBM may be realized in terms of cortical circuitry and biophysical mechanisms, consistent with 
psychophysical and physiological data. A number of predictions, testable with physiological techniques, 
are made. 

Copyright © Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1993 

This memo describes research done within the Center for Biological and Computational Learning in the Department of Brain 
and Cognitive Sciences and at the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. This research 
is sponsored by grants from the Office of Naval Research under contracts N00014-92-J-1879 and N00014-93-1-0385; and by 
a grant from the National Science Foundation under contract ASC-9217041 (this award includes funds from ARPA provided 
under the HPCC program). Additional support is provided by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, ATR Audio and Visual 
Perception Research Laboratories, Mitsubishi Electric Corporation, Sumitomo Metal Industries, and Siemens AG. Support 
for the A.I. Laboratory's artificial intelligence research is provided by ARPA contract N00014-91-J-4038. Tomaso Poggio is 
supported by the Uncas and Helen Whitaker Chair at MIT's Whitaker College. 

1 Introduction 

One of the main goals of vision is object recognition. But 
there may be many distinct routes to this goal and the 
goal itself may come in several forms. Anyone who has 
struggled to identify a particular amoeba swimming on 
a microscope slide or to distinguish between novel visual 
stimuli in a psychophysics laboratory might admit that 
recognizing a familiar face seems an altogether different 
and simpler task. Recent evidence from several lines of 
research strongly suggests that not all recognition tasks 
are the same. Psychophysical results and computational 
analyses suggest that recognition strategies may depend 
on the type of both object and visual task. Symmetric 
objects are better recognized from novel viewpoints than 
asymmetric objects (Poggio and Vetter, 1992); when 
moved to novel locations in the visual field, objects with 
translation-invariant features are better recognized than 
those without (Bricolo and Bulthoff, 1992; Nazir and 
O'Regan, 1990). A typical agnosic patient can distin- 
guish between a face and a car, a classification task at 
the basic level of recognition, but cannot recognize the 
face of Marilyn Monroe, an identification task at the sub- 
ordinate level (Damasio and Tranel, 1990). A recently- 
reported stroke patient cannot identify the orientation of 
a line but can align her hand with it if she imagines post- 
ing a letter through it, suggesting strongly that there are 
also multiple outputs from visual recognition (Goodale, 

Yet although recognition strategies diverge, recent 
theories of object recognition converge on one mecha- 
nism that might underlie several of the distinct stages, 
as we will argue in this paper. This mechanism is a 
simple one, closely related to template matching and 
Nearest Neighbor techniques. It belongs to a class of ex- 
planations that we call Memory-Based Models (MBMs), 
which includes memory-based recognition, sparse popu- 
lation coding, Generalized Radial Basis Functions net- 
works, and their extension, Hyper Basis Functions net- 
works (HBF) (Poggio and Girosi, 1990b) (see Figure 2.) 
In MBMs, classification or identification of a visual stim- 
ulus is accomplished by a network of units. Each unit 
is broadly tuned to a particular template, so that it is 
maximally excited when the stimulus exactly matches its 
template but also responds proportionately less to simi- 
lar stimuli. The weighted sum of activities of all the units 
uniquely labels a novel stimulus. Several recent and suc- 
cessful face recognition schemes for machine vision share 
aspects of this framework ( Baron, 1981; Bichsel, 1991; 
Brunelli and Poggio, 1992; Turk and Pentland, 1991; 
Stringa, 1992a; Stringa, 1992b) 

We will consider how the basic features of this class 
of models might be implemented by the human visual 
system. Our aim is to demonstrate that such models 
conform to existing physiological data and to make fur- 
ther physiological predictions. We will use as a specific 
example of the class the RBF network. RBF networks 

/footnoteWe use the term RBF here in a broad sense in- 
cluding generalizations of the pure RBF scheme such as 
GRB and HBF (see Poggio and Girosi 1990). have been 
used successfully to solve isolated visual tasks, such as 
learning to detect displacements at hyperacuity resolu- 
tion (Poggio, Fahle and Edelman, 1992) or learning to 
identify the gender of a face (Brunelli and Poggio, 1992). 
We will discuss how the units of a RBF network might 
be realized as neurons and how a similar network might 
be implemented by cortical circuitry and replicated at 
many levels to perform the multi-component task of vi- 
sual recognition. We hope to show that MBMs are not 
merely toy replicas of neural systems, but viable models 
that make testable biological predictions. 

The main predictions of Memory-Based Models are: 

• The existence of broadly tuned neurons at all levels 
of the visual pathway, tuned to single features or to 
configurations in a multidimensional feature space. 

• At least two types of plasticity in the adult brain, 
corresponding to two stages of learning in per- 
ceptual skills and tasks. One stage probably in- 
volves changes in the tuning of individual neuron 
responses; this resembles adaptation. The other 
probably requires changes in cortical circuitry spe- 
cific to the task being learned, connecting many 
neurons across possibly many areas. 

2 Object Recognition: Multiple Tasks, 
Multiple Pathways 

Recognizing an object should be difficult because it 
rarely looks the same on each sighting. Consider the 
prototypical problem of recognizing a specific face. (We 
believe that processing of faces is not qualitatively dif- 
ferent from processing other 3D objects, although the 
former might be streamlined by practice, and biologi- 
cal evidence supports this view [Gross, 1992].) The 2D 
retinal image formed by the face changes with the ob- 
server's viewpoint, and with the many transformations 
that the face can undergo: changes in its location, pose, 
and illumination, as well as non-rigid deformations such 
as the transition from a smile to a frown. A successful 
recognition system must be robust under all such trans- 

Here we outline an architecture for a recognition sys- 
tem that contains what we believe are the rudimentary 
elements of a robust system. It is best considered as a 
protocol for and summary of existing programs in ma- 
chine vision, but it also represents an attempt to delin- 
eate the stages probably involved in visual recognition by 
humans. The scheme (diagrammed in Figure 1) has dual 
routes to recognition. The first is a streamlined route to 
recognition in which the features extracted in the early 
stages of image analysis are matched directly to samples 
in the database. The second potential route to recogni- 
tion diverges from the first to allow for the possibility 

that both the database models and the extracted image 
features might need further processing before a match 
can be found. 

Our task in recognizing a face - or any other 3D object 
- consists of multiple tasks, which fall into three broad 
categories that characterize both routes: 

• Segmentation: Marking the boundaries of the face 
in the image. This stage typically involves seg- 
menting the entire image into regions likely to 
correspond to different materials or surfaces (and 
thereby subsumes figure-ground segmentation) and 
is a prerequisite for further analysis of a marked re- 
gion. Image measurements are used to convert the 
retinal array of light intensities into a primal im- 
age representation, by computing sparse measure- 
ments on the array, such as intensity gradients, or 
center-surround outputs. The result is a set of vec- 
tor measurements at each of a sparse or dense set of 
locations in the image. These measurements may 
be global ones like average value over a whole array 
of (filtered) pixel values. 

• Classification, or basic-level recognition: Distin- 
guishing objects that are faces from those that are 
not. Parameter values estimated in the preceding 
stage - e.g. the distance between eyes and mouth 
- are used in this stage for classification of a set of 
features - e.g. as a potential face, animal, or man- 
made tool. This stage requires that the boundaries 
or the location of at least potential faces be demar- 
cated, and hence generally depends on the preced- 
ing step of image segmentation, although it may 
work without it at an added computational cost. 

• Identification, or subordinate-level recognition: 
Matching the face to a stored memory, and thereby 
labeling it. This stage requires some form of index- 
ing of the database samples. Because it is compu- 
tationally implausible that the recognition system 
contains a stored sample of the face in each of its 
possible views or expressions, or under all possi- 
ble illumination conditions at all possible viewing 
distances, this step in general also requires that 
the face be transformed into a standard form for 
matching against its stored template. Thus in par- 
allel with the direct route from classification to 
identification there may exist a second route that 
we call the visualization route, which may include 
an iterative sequence of transformations of both the 
image-plane and the database models until it con- 
verges on a match. 

These stages, and some open questions on the overall 
architecture, are further discussed in the Appendices. 

As outlined here, the stages are distinct and could be 
implemented in series within each route to recognition. 
Most artificial face recognition systems tackle the stages 
separately, being designed either to detect and localize 

a face in an image cluttered with other objects (segmen- 
tation and classification), or to identify individual faces 
presented in an expected format (database indexing and 
identification). Some artificial recognition systems have 
been constructed to achieve invariant recognition un- 
der isolated transformations (visualization). Examples 
are systems that: recognize frontal views of faces un- 
der varying illuminations ( Brunelli and Poggio, 1992); 
recognize simple paper-clip-like objects independently of 
viewpoint ( Poggio and Edelman, 1990); or identify sim- 
ple objects solely by color under spatially varying illu- 
mination ( Swain and Ballard, 1990). 

Yet in biological systems, and in some artificial sys- 
tems, the stages may act in parallel or even merge. For 
example, there may be many short-cuts to recognizing a 
frequently encountered object such as a face, for exam- 

Finding the face might be streamlined by a quick 
search at low resolution over the whole image for face- 
like patterns. The search might employ simplified tem- 
plates of a face containing anthropometric information 
(for example, a two-eyes-and-mouth mask). Once lo- 
cated, salient features such as eyes can be used to demar- 
cate the entire object to which they belong, eliminating 
the need to segment other parts of the image. These 
detectors would scan the image for the presence of these 
face-specific features, and using them, locate the face for 
further processing (translation, scaling, etc.). (Some ma- 
chine vision systems already implement this idea, using 
translation-invariant face-feature-detectors such as eye 
detectors [Bichsel, 1991] or symmetry detectors.) Thus 
segmentation may occur simultaneously with classifica- 
tion. The existence of these face-detectors in the human 
visual system might explain why we so readily perceive 
faces in the simplest drawings of dots and lines, or in 
symmetric patterns formed in nature (Hurlbert and Pog- 
gio, 1986), and why we detect properly configured faces 
more readily than arbitrary or inverted arrangements of 
facial features (Purcell and Stewart, 1988). Indeed, we 
wonder whether face recognition may have become so in- 
veterate that the human brain might first classify image 
regions into face or non-face. Notice that the process of 
finding features such as the eyes and identifying the face 
are probably very similar in this view. They are both 
based on a set of prototypical examples of either eyes or 
views of the particular face, and they may be using a 
similar machinery perhaps (RBF-like). 

Recognizing an expected object might also be more 
speedy and efficient than identifying an unexpected one. 
In the classification stage, only those features specific 
for the expected object class need be measured, and cor- 
rect classification would not require that all features be 
simultaneously available. This step might therefore be 
itself a form of template matching, where part-templates 
may serve as well as whole-templates to locate and clas- 
sify the object. In many cases the classification stage 

may lead by itself to unique recognition, especially when 
situational information, such as the expectedness of the 
object, restricts the relevant data base. 

Yet many questions are left hanging by this sketch of 
a recognition system. In biological systems, is matching 
done between primal image representations, like center- 
surround outputs at sparse locations, or between sets 
of higher level features? Computational experiments on 
face recognition suggest that the former strategy per- 
forms much better. What exactly are the key features 
used for identifying, localizing and normalizing an ob- 
ject of a specific class? Is there an automatic way to 
learn them? (Huber, 1985). Do biological visual sys- 
tems acquire recognition features through experience ( 
Edelman, 1991)? Do humans use expectation to restrict 
the data base for categorization? Some psychophysical 
experiments suggest that we do not need higher-level 
expectations to recognize objects quickly in a random 
series of images, but these experiments have used famil- 
iar objects such as the Eiffel Tower (M. Potter, pers. 

2.1 A Sketch of a Memory- Based Cortical 
Architecture for Recognition 

We suggest that most stages in face recognition, and 
more generally, in object recognition, may be imple- 
mented by modules with the same intrinsic structure - 
a Memory Based Module (MBM). At the heart of this 
structure is a set of neurons each tuned to a particular 
value or configuration along one or many feature dimen- 
sions. Let us take as an example of such a structure 
the Hyper Basis Functions (HBF) network. This is a 
convenient choice because HBFs have been successfully 
applied already to several problems in object recognition 
as well as an unrestrictive, easily modifiable choice be- 
cause HBFs are closely related to other approximation 
and learning techniques such as multilayer perceptrons. 

2.1.1 RBF Networks 

HBF networks are approximation schemes based on, 
but more flexible than, Radial Basis Functions (RBF) 
networks (see Figure 2; Poggio and Girosi, 1990b; Pog- 
gio, 1990). The fundamental equation underlying RBF 
networks states that any function /(x) may be approxi- 
mated by a weighted sum of RBFs: 




8 = 1 

! + p(x). 


The functions h may be any of the class of RBFs, 
for example, Gaussians. p(x) is a polynomial that is re- 
quired by certain RBFs for the validity of the equation. 
(For some RBFs, e.g. Gaussians, the addition of p(x) 
is not necessary, but improves performance of the net- 
work.) In an RBF network, each "unit" computes the 
distance ||x — t|| of the input vector x from its center 
t and applies the function h to the distance value, i.e. 

it computes the function h(\\x — t||) 2 . The N centers 
t, corresponding to the N data points, thus behave like 
templates, to which the inputs are compared for similar- 

A typical and illustrative choice of RBF is the Gaus- 
sian [/i(||x-t||) = e;cp(-(||x-t||) 2 /2<7 2 )]. In the limiting 
case where h is a very narrow Gaussian, the network ef- 
fectively becomes a look-up table, in which a unit gives 
a non-zero signal only if the input exactly matches its 
center t. 

The simplest recognition scheme based on RBF net- 
works that we consider is that suggested by Poggio and 
Edelman (1990) (see fig. 7) to solve the specific prob- 
lem of recognizing a particular 3D object from novel 
views, a subordinate-level task. In the RBF version of 
the network, each center stores a sample view of the ob- 
ject, and acts as a unit with a Gaussian-like recognition 
field around that view. The unit performs an operation 
that could be described as "blurred" template matching. 
At the output of the network the activities of the vari- 
ous units are combined with appropriate weights, found 
during the learning stage. An example of a recognition 
field measured psychophysical^ for an asymmetric ob- 
ject after training with a single view is shown in fig 5. 
As predicted from the model (see Poggio and Edelman, 
1990), the shape of the surface of the recognition errors 
is roughly Gaussian and centered on the training view. 

In this particular model, the inputs to the network 
are spatial coordinates or measurements of features (e.g. 
angles or lengths of segments) computed from the im- 
age. In general, though, the inputs to an RBF net- 
work are not restricted to spatial coordinates but could 
include, for example, colours or configurations of seg- 
ments, binocular disparities of features, or texture de- 
scriptions. Certainly in any biological implementation of 
such a network the inputs may include measurements or 
descriptions of any attribute that the visual system may 
represent. We assume that in the primate visual sys- 
tem such a recognition module may use a large number 
of primitive measurements as inputs, taken by different 
"filters" that can be regarded as many different "tem- 
plates" for shape, texture, color and so forth. The only 
restriction is that the features must be directly computed 
from the image. Hence the inputs are viewer-centered, 
not object-centered, although some, like colour, will be 
viewpoint-independent. The output of the network is, 
though, object-centered, provided there is a sufficient 
number of centers. This generality of the network per- 
mits a mix of 2D and 3D information in the inputs, and 
relieves the model from the constraints of either. 

This feature of the model also renders irrelevant the 
question on whether object representations are 2D or 
3D. The Poggio-Edelman model makes it clear that 2D- 
based schemes can provide view invariance as readily 
as a 3D model can, and compute 3D pose as well (see 
Poggio and Edelman, 1990). So the relevant questions 

are: what is explicit in neurons? and what does it mean 
for information about shape to be explicit in neurons? 
In a sense, some 2D-based schemes such as the Poggio- 
Edelman model may be considered as plausible neuro- 
physiological implementations of 3D models. 

We do not suggest that the cortical architecture for 
recognition consists of a collection of such modules, one 
for each recognizable object. Certainly it is more com- 
plex than that cartoon, and not only because viewpoint- 
invariance is not the only problem that the recognition 
system must solve. For example, the cortex must also 
learn to recognize objects under varying illumination 
(photometric invariance) and to recognize objects at the 
basic as well as subordinate level. [Preliminary results 
on real objects (faces) suggest that HBF modules can es- 
timate expression and direction of illumination equally 
as well as pose (Brunelli, pers. comm., Beymer, pers. 
comm.).] Yet each of these and other distinct tasks in 
recognition may be implemented by a module broadly 
similar to the Poggio-Edelman viewpoint-invariance net- 
work. We might expect that the system could be de- 
composed into elementary modules similar in design but 
different in purpose, some specific for individual objects 
(and therefore solving a subordinate-level task), some 
specific to an object class (solving a basic-level task), 
and others designed to perform transformations or fea- 
ture extractions, for example, common to several classes. 
The modules may broadly be categorized as: 

• Object-specific. A module designed to compensate 
for specific transformations that a specific object 
might undergo. As in the Poggio-Edelman net- 
work, the module would consist of a few units, each 
maximally tuned to a particular configuration of 
the object - for the face, say, a particular combina- 
tion of pose and expression. A more general form 
of the network may be able to recognize a few dif- 
ferent faces: its hidden units would be tuned to 
different views but of not just one face, and there- 
fore behave more like eigenfaces. 

• Class-specific. A module that generalizes across ob- 
jects of a given class. For example, the network 
may be designed to extract a feature or aspect of 
any of a class of objects, such as pose, color, or 
distance. For example, there might be a network 
designed to extract the pose of a face, and a sep- 
arate network designed to extract the direction of 
illumination on it. Any face fed as input to network 
would elicit an estimate of its pose or illumination. 

• Task-specific. Networks that solve tasks, such as 
shape-from-shading, across classes of objects. An 
example would be a generic shape-from-shading 
network that takes as input brightness gradients 
of image regions. It may act in the early stages 
of recognition, helping to segment and classify 3D 
shapes even before they are grouped and classified 

as objects. 

The distinctions between these types of recognition 
module might be blurred if, for example, the visual sys- 
tem overlearns certain objects or transformations. For 
example, a shape-from-shading network might develop 
for a frequently-encountered type of material, or for a 
specific class of object. Indeed, our working assump- 
tion is that any apparent differences between recogni- 
tion strategies for different types of objects arise not 
from fundamental differences in cortical mechanisms but 
from imbalances in the distribution of the same basic 
modules across different objects and different environ- 
ments. Savanna Man, like us, probably had task-specific 
modules dedicated to faces, but although we might have 
shape-from-shading modules specific to familiar pieces 
of office furniture, he might not be able to recognize a 
filing cabinet at all, much less under varying illumina- 
tion. This suggests a decomposition into modules that 
are both task and object specific, which is a rather un- 
conventional but plausible idea. 

Transformations specific to a particular object may 
also be generalized from transformations learned on pro- 
totypes of the same class. For example, the deformation 
caused by a change in pose or, for a face, a change in 
expression or age, may be learned from a set of exam- 
ples of the same transformation acting on prototypes 
of the class. Some transformations may be generalized 
across all objects sharing the same symmetries (Poggio 
and Vetter, 1992). 

The big question is, if the recognition system does 
consist of similar modules performing interlocking tasks, 
how are the modules linked, and in what hierarchy (if 
it makes sense at all to talk of ordered stages)? In 
constructing a practical system for face recognition, it 
would make sense first to estimate the pose, expression, 
and illumination for a generic face and then to use this 
estimate to "normalize" the face and compare it to sin- 
gle views in the data base (additional "search" to fine 
tune the match may be necessary). Thus the system 
would first employ a class-specific module based on in- 
variant properties of faces to recover, say, a generic view 
- analogous to an object-centered representation - that 
could feed into face-specific networks for identification. 
The information that the system extracts in the early 
stages concerning illumination, expression, context, etc. 
would not be discarded. Within each stage, modules 
may be further decomposed and arranged in hierarchies: 
one may be specific for eyes, and may extract gaze angle, 
a parameter that may then feed into a module concerned 
with the pose of the entire face. 

For face recognition, the generic view may be recov- 
ered by exploiting prior information such as the approx- 
imate bilateral symmetry of faces. In general a single 
monocular view of a 3D object (if shading is neglected) 
does not contain sufficient 3D information for recogni- 
tion of novel views. Yet humans are certainly able to 

recognize faces rotated 20-30 degrees away from frontal 
after training on just one frontal view. One of us has re- 
cently discussed ( Poggio, 1991) different ways for solving 
the following problem: from one 2D view of a 3D object 
generate other views, exploiting knowledge of views of 
other, "prototypical" objects of the same class. It can 
be shown theoretically ( Poggio and Vetter, 1992) that 
prior information on generic shape constraints does re- 
duce the amount of information needed to recognize a 3D 
object, since additional virtual views can be generated 
from given model views by the appropriate symmetry 
transformations. In particular, for bilaterally symmetric 
objects, a single non-accidental "model" view is theo- 
retically sufficient for recognition of novel views. Psy- 
chophysical experiments ( Vetter, Poggio and Biilthoff, 
1992) confirm that humans are better in recognizing 
symmetric than non-symmetric objects. 

An interesting question is whether there are indeed 
multiple routes to recognition. It is obvious that some 
of the logically distinct steps in recognition of Figure 1 
may be integrated in fewer modules, depending on the 
specific implementation. Figure 3 shows how the same 
architecture may appear if the classification and the visu- 
alization routes are implemented with HBF networks. In 
this case, the database of face models would essentially 
be embedded in the networks (see Poggio and Edelman, 

There are of course several obvious alternatives to this 
architecture and many possible refinements and exten- 
sions. Even if oversimplified, this token architecture is 
useful to generate meaningful questions. The preceding 
discussion may in fact be sufficient for performing com- 
putational experiments and for developing practical sys- 
tems. It is also sufficient for suggesting psychophysical 
experiments. It is of course not enough from the point of 
view of a physiologist, yet the physiological data in the 
next section provides broad support for its ingredients. 

2.1.2 Physiological Support for a 

Memory-Based Recognition Architecture 

At least superficially, physiological data seems to sup- 
port the existence of elements of each these modules. 
Perrett (Perrett et. al., 1989; Perrett, 1985) 
report evidence from inferotemporal cortex (IT) not only 
for cells tuned to individual faces but also for face cells 
tuned to intermediate views between frontal and profile, 
units that one would expect in a class-specific network 
designed to extract pose of faces. Such cells also sup- 
port the existence of the view-centered units predicted 
by the basic Poggio-Edelman recognition module. Young 
and Yamane ( 1992) describe cells in anterior IT that 
respond optimally to particular configurations of facial 
features, or "physical prototypes." These may conceiv- 
ably provide input to the cells described by Perrett et. 
al. as "person recognition units", or to the approxi- 
mately view-independent cells described by Hasselmo, 

et. al. ( Hasselmo, 1989) which would in turn 
correspond almost exactly to the object-centred output 
of the Poggio-Edelman model. Perrett et. al. (1989; 
1985) also report cells that respond to a given pose of 
the face regardless of illumination - even when the face 
is under heavy shadow. Such cells may resemble units in 
a task-specific network. In the superior temporal sulcus, 
Hasselmo et. al. (1989) also find cells sensitive to head 
movement or facial gesture, independent of the view or 
identity of the face. Such cells would also appear to 
be both class- and task-specific. (See Perrett and Oram, 
1992) for a more detailed review of relevant physiological 

Fujita and Tanaka (1992) have also reported cells in 
IT that respond optimally to certain configurations of 
color and shape. These may well represent elements of 
networks that generalize across objects, classifying them 
according to their geometric and material constitution. 
More significantly, Fujita and Tanaka (1992) report that 
cells in the anterior region of IT (cytoarchitectonic area 
TE) are arranged in columns, within which cells respond 
to similar configurations of color, shape and texture. 
Each configuration may be thought of as a template, 
which in turn might encode an entire object (e.g. a face) 
or a part of an object (e.g. the lips). Within one col- 
umn, cells may respond to slightly different versions of 
the template, obtained by rotations in the image-plane, 
for example. Fujita and Tanaka (1992) conclude that 
each of the 2000 or so columns in TE may represent one 
phoneme in the language of objects, and that combi- 
nations of activity across the columns are sufficient to 
encode all recognizable objects. 

The existence of such columns supports the notion 
that the visual system may achieve invariance to image- 
plane transformations of elementary features by repli- 
cating the necessary feature measurements at different 
positions, at different scales and with different rotations. 

In the next section we describe how key aspects of 
the architecture could be implemented in terms of plau- 
sible biophysical mechanisms and neurophysiological cir- 

3 Neural modeling of memory-based 
architectures for recognition 

In this section we discuss in more detail the possible neu- 
ral implementations of a recognition system built from 
MB Ms. The main questions we address are: how are 
MBMs constructed when a new object or class of objects 
is learned? and how might MBM units be constructed 
from known biophysical mechanisms? We propose that 
there are two stages of learning - supervised and unsu- 
pervised - and illustrate to which elements of a memory- 
based network they correspond. Where could they be 
localized in terms of cortical structures? What mech- 
anisms could be responsible? We discuss the memory- 
based module itself and the circuitry that might underlie 


3.1 The learning-from-examples module 

The simple RBF version of an MBM, discussed in sec- 
tion 2.1, learns to recognize an object in a straightfor- 
ward way. Its centers are fixed, chosen as a subset of 
the training examples. The only parameters that can 
be modified as the network learns to associate each view 
with the correct response ("y es " or "no" to the target 
object) are the coefficients c;, the weights on the con- 
nections from each center to the output. 

The full HBF network permits learning mechanisms 
that are more biologically plausible by allowing more 
parameters to be modified. HBF networks are equivalent 
to the following scheme for approximating a multivariate 




a = l 

c a G(||(x-t a )||^)+p(x) 


where the centers t a and coefficients c a are unknown, 
and are in general fewer in number than the data points 
(n < N). The norm is a weighted norm 


(x-t a ) T W T W(x-t a ) 


where W is an unknown square matrix and the super- 
script T indicates the transpose. In the simple case of 
diagonal W the diagonal elements w, assign a specific 
weight to each input coordinate, determining in fact the 
units of measure and the importance of each feature 
(the matrix W is especially important in cases in which 
the input features are of a different type and their rela- 
tive importance is unknown) (Poggio and Girosi, 1990a). 
During learning, not only the coefficients c but also the 
centers t a , and the elements of W are updated by in- 
struction on the input-output examples. See Figure 4. 

Whereas the RBF technique is similar to and similarly 
limited as template matching, HBF networks perform 
a generalization of template matching in an appropri- 
ately linearly transformed space, with the appropriate 
metric. HBF networks are therefore different in both 
interpretation and capabilities from "vanilla" RBF. An 
RBF network can recognize an object rotated to novel 
orientations only if it has centers corresponding to sam- 
ple rotations of the object. HBFs, though, can perform 
a variety of more sophisticated recognition tasks. For 
example, HBFs can: 

1. discover the Basri-Ullman result (Basri and Ull- 
man, 1989; Brunelli and Poggio, unpublished). (In 
its strong form (see Poggio 1991), this result states 
that under orthographic projection any view of the 
visible features of the 3D object may be generated 
by a linear combination of 2 other views.); 

2. with a non-diagonal W, recognize an object under 
orthographic projection with only one center; 

3. provide invariance (or near invariance under per- 
spective projection) for scale, rotation and other 
uniform deformations in the image plane, without 
requiring that the features be invariant; 

4. discover symmetry, collinearity and other "linear- 
class" properties (see Poggio and Vetter, 1992). 

3.1.1 Gaussian Radial Basis Functions 

In the special case where the network basis functions 
are Gaussian and the matrix W diagonal, its elements 
Wi have an appealingly obvious interpretation. A mul- 
tidimensional Gaussian basis function is the product of 
one-dimensional Gaussians and the scale of each is given 
by the inverse of W{. For example, a 2D Gaussian radial 
function centered on t can be written as: 

G(||x-t||^) = e- 





where a x = l/u>i and a y = l/u>2, an d w\ and u>2 are the 
elements of the diagonal matrix W. 

Thus a multidimensional center can be factored in 
terms of one-dimensional centers. Each one-dimensional 
center is individually tuned to its input: centers with 
small Wi, or large o - ;, are less selective and will give ap- 
preciable responses to a range of values of the input fea- 
ture; centers with large Wi, or small o - ;, are more selec- 
tive for their input and accordingly have greater influ- 
ence on the response of the multidimensional center. The 
template represented by the multidimensional center can 
be considered as a conjunction of one-dimensional tem- 
plates. In this sense, a Gaussian HBF network performs 
the disjunction of conjunctions: the conjunctions repre- 
sented by the multidimensional centers are "or"ed in the 
weighted sum of center activities that forms the output 
of the network. 

3.2 Expected physiological properties of MBM 

3.2.1 The neurophysiological interpretation of 
HBF centers 

Our key claim is that HBF centers and tuned cortical 
neurons behave alike. 

A Gaussian HBF unit is maximally excited when each 
component of the input exactly matches each component 
of the center. Thus the unit is optimally tuned to the 
stimulus value specified by its center. Units with multidi- 
mensional centers are tuned to complex features, formed 
by the conjunction of simpler features, as described in 
the previous section. 

This description is very like the customary description 
of cortical cells optimally tuned to a more or less complex 
stimulus. So-called place coding is the simplest and most 
universal example of tuning: cells with roughly Gaussian 
receptive fields have peak sensitivities to given locations 
in the input space; by overlapping, the cell sensitivities 

cover all of that space. In VI the input space may be 
up to 5 dimensional, depending on whether the cell is 
tuned not only to the retinal coordinates x,y but also 
to stimulus orientation, motion direction and binocular 
disparity. In V4 some cells respond optimally to a stim- 
ulus combining the appropriate values of speed and color 
(N. K. Logothetis, pers. comm.; Logothetis and Charles, 
1990). Other V4 cells respond optimally to a combina- 
tion of colour and shape (D. Van Essen, pers. comm.) . 
In MST cells exist optimally tuned to specific motions in 
different parts of the receptive field and therefore to dif- 
ferent motion "dimensions" . Most of these cells are also 
selective for stimulus contrast. In "later" areas such as 
IT cells may be tuned to more complex stimuli which 
can be changed in a number of "dimensions" (Desimone, 1984). Gross (1992) concludes that " ...IT cells 
tend to respond at different rates to a variety of differ- 
ent stimuli." Thus it seems that multidimensional units 
with Gaussian-like tuning are not only biologically plau- 
sible, but ubiquitous in cortical physiology. This claim is 
not meant to imply that for every feature dimension of a 
multidimensionally tuned neuron, neurons feeding into 
it can be found individually tuned to that dimension. 
For example, for some motion-selective cells in MT the 
selectivities to spatial frequency and temporal frequency 
cannot be separated. Yet for these, it may be inappro- 
priate to consider time and space as two independent 
dimensions and more appropriate to consider velocity as 
the single dimension in which the neuron is tuned. On 
the other hand, it is well known that at lower levels in the 
visual system there do exist cells broadly tuned individ- 
ually to spatial frequency, orientation, and wavelength, 
for example, and from these dimensions many complex 
features can be constructed. 

We also observe that not all MBMs have the same 
applicability in describing properties of cortical neu- 
rons. In particular, tuned neurons seem to behave more 
like Gaussian HBF units than like the sigmoidal units 
typically found in multilayer perceptrons (MLPs): the 
tuned response function of cortical neurons resembles 
exp(— (||x — t||) 2 /2<7 2 more than it does <t(xw), where 
a is a sigmoidal "squashing" function and we define w 
as the vector of connection weights including the bias pa- 
rameter 6. (The typical sigmoidal response to contrast 
that most neurons display may be treated as a Gaus- 
sian of large a.) For example, when the stimulus to 
an orientation-selective cortical neuron is changed from 
its optimal value in any direction, the neuron's response 
typically decreases. The activity of a Gaussian HBF unit 
would also decline with any change in the stimulus away 
from its optimal value t. But for the sigmoid unit cer- 
tain changes away from the optimal stimulus will not 
decrease its activity, for example when the input x is 
multiplied by a constant a > 1. 

Lastly, we observe that although the Gaussian is the 
simplest and most readily interpretable RBF in physio- 

logical terms, it might not ultimately provide the best 
fit to all the physiological data once in. In espousing the 
general theory of MBMs for cortical mechanisms of ob- 
ject recognition, we do not confine ourselves to Gaussian 
RBFs as the only model of cortical neurons, but only at 
present the most plausible. 

3.2.2 Centers and a fundamental property of 
our sensory world 

We can recognize almost any object from any of many 
small subsets of its features, visual and non- visual. We 
can perform many motor actions in several different 
ways. In most situations, our sensory and motor worlds 
are redundant. In the language of the previous section 
this means that instead of high-dimensional centers any 
of several lower dimensional centers are often sufficient 
to perform a given task. This means that the "and" of 
a high-dimensional conjunction can be replaced by the 
"or" of its components - a face may be recognized by its 
eyebrows alone, or a mug by its colour. To recognize an 
object, we may use not only templates comprising all its 
features, but also subtemplates, comprising subsets of 
features (and in fact exemplary sets of centers capable 
of generating most eyes, say). This is similar in spirit 
to the use of several small templates as well as a whole- 
face template in the Brunelli-Poggio work on frontal face 
recognition (Brunelli and Poggio, 1992). 

Splitting the recognizable world into its additive parts 
may well be preferable to reconstructing it in its full mul- 
tidimensionality, because a system composed of several 
independently accessible parts is inherently more robust 
than a whole, simultaneously dependent on each of its 
parts. The small loss in uniqueness of recognition is eas- 
ily offset by the gain against noise and occlusion. This 
reduction of the recognizable world into its parts may 
well be what allows us to "understand" the things that 
we see (see Appendix B). 

3.2.3 How many cells? 

The idea of sparse population coding is consistent 
with much physiological evidence, beginning even at the 
retinal level where colors are coded by 3 types of pho- 
toreceptors. Young and Yamane (1992) conclude from 
neurophysiological recordings of IT cells broadly tuned 
to physical prototypes of faces: "Rather than represent- 
ing each cell as a vector in the space, the cell could be 
represented as a surface raised above the feature space. 
The height of the surface above each point in the feature 
space would be given by the response magnitude of the 
cell to the corresponding stimuli and population vectors 
would be derived by summing the response weighted sur- 
faces for each cell for each stimulus." MBMs also sug- 
gest that the importance of the object and the exposure 
to it may determine how many centers are devoted to 
its recognition. Thus faces may have a more "punctate" 
representation than other objects simply because more 

centers are used. Psychophysical experiments do suggest 
that an increasing number of centers is created under ex- 
tended training to recognize a 3D object (Biilthoff and 
Edelman, 1992). 

While we would not dare to make a specific prediction 
on the absolute number of cells used to code for a specific 
object, computational experiments and our arguments 
here suggest at least a minimum bound. Simulations by 
Poggio and Edelman (1990) suggest that in an MBM 
model a minimum of 10-100 units is needed to represent 
all possible views of a 3D object. We think that the 
primate visual system could not achieve the same rep- 
resentation with fewer than on the order of 1000. This 
number seems physiologically plausible, although we ex- 
pect that the actual number will depend strongly on the 
reliability of the neurons, training of the animal, rele- 
vance of the represented object and other properties of 
the implementation. Thus we envisage that training a 
monkey to one view of a target object may "create" at 
least on the order of 100 cells tuned to that view 1 in the 
relevant cortical area, with a generalization field similar 
to the one shown in figure 5. Training to an additional 
view may create or recruit cells tuned to that view. Over- 
training a monkey on a specific object should result in 
an over-representation in cortex of that object - more 
cells than normally expected would be tuned to views of 
the object. Recent results from Kobatake, et. al. (1993) 
suggest that up to two orders of magnitude more cells 
may be "created" in IT (or, rather, the stimulus selectiv- 
ities of existing cells altered) on over-training to specific 

Note that we do not mean to imply that only 10 - 
1000 cortical cells would be active on presentation of 
an object. Many more would be activated than those 
that are critical for its representation. We suggest only 
that the activity of approximately 100 cells should be 
sufficient to discriminate between two distinct objects. 
This conclusion is broadly supported by the conclusion 
of Young and Yamane (1992) that the population re- 
sponse of approximately 40 cells in IT is approximately 
sufficient to encode a particular face, and by the related 
observation of Britten, (1992) that the activity 
of a small pool of weakly correlated neurons in MT is 
sufficient to predict a monkey's behavioral response in a 
motion detection task. 

3.2.4 HBF centers and biophysical mechanisms 

How might multidimensional Gaussian receptive fields 
be synthesized from known receptive fields and biophys- 
ical mechanisms? 

The simplest answer is that cells tuned to complex 

Probably in different ways: different cells may be tuned 
to different parts of the view and may converge to differ- 
ent "prototypes" representing that component; when we use 
the term "prototype" we have in mind the "caricatures" of 
Brunelli and Poggio 

features are constructed from a hierarchy of simpler cells 
tuned to incrementally larger conjunctions of elementary 
features. This idea - a standard explanation - can im- 
mediately be formalized in terms of Gaussian radial ba- 
sis functions, since a multidimensional Gaussian function 
can be decomposed into the product of lower dimensional 
Gaussians (Marr and Poggio, 1977; Ballard, 1986; Mel, 
1988; Poggio and Girosi, 1990b). 

The scheme of figure 6 is a possible example of an 
implementation of Gaussian Radial Basis functions in 
terms of physiologically plausible mechanisms. The first 
step applies to situations in which the inputs are place- 
coded, that is, in which the value of the input is rep- 
resented by its location in a spatial array of cells - as, 
for example, the image coordinates x,y are encoded by 
the spatial pattern of photoreceptor activites. In this 
case Gaussian radial functions in one, two and possi- 
bly three dimensions can be implemented as receptive 
fields by weighted connections from the sensor arrays 
(or some retinotopic array of units whose activity en- 
codes the location of features). If the inputs are interval- 
coded, that is, if the input value is represented by the 
continuously- varying firing rate of a single neuron, then a 
one-dimensional Gaussian-like tuned cell can be created 
by passing the input value through multiple sigmoidal 
functions with different thresholds and taking their dif- 

Consider, for example, the problem of encoding 
colour. At the retinal level, colour is recorded by the 
triplet of activities of three types of cell: the cone- 
opponent red-green (R-G) and blue-yellow (B-Y) cells 
and the luminance (L) cell. An R-G cell signals increas- 
ing amounts of red or decreasing amounts of green by 
increasing its firing rate. Thus it does not behave like a 
Gaussian tuned cell. But at higher levels in the visual 
system, there exist cells that behave very much like units 
tuned to particular values in 3D colour space (Schein and 
Desimone, 1990). How are these multidimensional tuned 
colour cells constructed from one-dimensional rate-coded 
cells? We suggest that one-dimensional Gaussian tuned 
cells may be created by the above mechanism, selective 
to restricted ranges of the three colour axes. 

Gaussians in higher dimensions can then be synthe- 
sized as products of one and two dimensional recep- 
tive fields. An important feature of this scheme is that 
the multidimensional radial functions are synthesized di- 
rectly by appropriately weighted connections from the 
sensor arrays, without any need of an explicit computa- 
tion of the norm and the exponential. From this per- 
spective the computation is performed by Gaussian re- 
ceptive fields and their combination (through some ap- 
proximation to multiplication), rather than by thresh- 
old functions. The view is in the spirit of the key role 
that the concept of receptive field has always played in 
neurophsyiology. It predicts a sparse population coding 
in terms of low-dimensional feature-like cells and mul- 

tidimensional Gaussian-like receptive fields, somewhat 
similar to template-like cells, a prediction that could be 
tested experimentally on cortical cells. 

The multiplication operation required by the previous 
interpretation of Gaussian RBFs to perform the "con- 
junction" of Gaussian receptive fields is not too implau- 
sible from a biophysical point of view. It could be per- 
formed by several biophysical mechanisms (see Koch and 
Poggio, 1987; Poggio, 1990). Here we mention several 

1. inhibition of the silent type and related synaptic 
and dendritic circuitry (see Poggio and Torre, 1978; 
Torre and Poggio, 1978). 

2. the AND-like mechanism of NMDA receptors 

3. a logarithmic transformation, followed by summa- 
tion, followed by exponentiation. The logarith- 
mic and exponential characteristic could be imple- 
mented in appropriate ranges by the sigmoid-like 
pre-to-postsynaptic voltage transduction of many 

4. approximation of the multiplication by summation 
and thresholding as suggested by Mel (1990). 

If the first or second mechanism is used, the product 
of figure 6 can be performed directly on the dendritic 
tree of the neuron representing the corresponding radial 
function. In the case of Gaussian receptive fields used 
to synthesize Gaussian radial basis functions, the cen- 
ter vector is effectively stored in the position of the 2D 
(or ID) receptive fields and in their connections to the 
product unit(s). This is plausible physiologically. 

Linear terms (direct connections from the inputs to 
the output) can be realized directly as inputs to an out- 
put neuron that summates linearly its synaptic inputs. 
An output nonlinearity such as a threshold or a sigmoid 
or a log transformation may be advantageous for many 
tasks and will not change the basic form of the model 
(see Poggio and Girosi, 1989). 

3.2.5 Circuits 

There is at least one other way to implement HBFs 
networks in terms of known properties of neurons. It 
exploits the equivalence of HBFs with MLP networks 
for normalized inputs (Maruyama et. al., 1992). If the 
inputs are normalized (as usual for unitary input repre- 
sentations), an HBF network could be implemented as 
a MLP network by using threshold units. There is the 
problem, though, in normalizing the inputs in a biolog- 
ically plausible way. MLP networks have a straightfor- 
ward implementation in terms of linear excitation and in- 
hibition and of the threshold mechanism of the spike for 
the sigmoidal nonlinearity. The latter could also be im- 
plemented in terms of the pre-postsynaptic relationship 
between presynaptic voltage and postsynaptic voltage. 
In either case this implementation requires one neuron 
per sigmoidal unit in the network. 

Mel (1992) has simulated a specific biophysical hy- 
pothesis about the role of cortical pyramidal cells in im- 
plementing a learning scheme that is very similar to a 
HBF network. Marr (1970) had proposed another simi- 
lar model of how pyramidal cells in neocortex could learn 
to discriminate different patterns. Marr's model is, in a 
sense, the look-up table limit of our HBF model. 

3.3 Mechanisms for learning 

Reasoning from the HBF model, we expect two mecha- 
nisms for learning, probably with different localizations, 
one that could occur unsupervised and thus is similar to 
adaptation, and one supervised and probably based on 
Hebb-like mechanisms. 

The first stage of learning would occur at the site of 
the centers. Let us remember that a center represents a 
neuron tuned to a particular visual stimulus, for exam- 
ple, a vertically oriented light bar. The coefficients c a 
represent the synaptic weights on the connections that 
the neuron makes to the output neuron that registers the 
network's response. In the simple RBF scheme the only 
parameters updated by learning are these coefficients. 
But in constructing the network, the centers must be set 
to values equal to the input examples. Physiologically, 
then, selecting the centers t a might correspond to choos- 
ing or re-tuning a subset of neurons selectively respon- 
sive to the range of stimulus attributes encountered in 
the task. This stage would be very much like adaptation, 
an adjustment to the prevailing stimulus conditions. It 
could occur unsupervised, and would strictly depend only 
on the stimuli, not on the task. Of course we would ex- 
pect some centers to be pretuned by evolution, evn in 
IT cortex. 

The second stage, updating of the coefficients c a , 
could occur only supervised, since it depends on the full 
input and output example pairs, or, in other words, on 
the task. It could be achieved by a simple Hebb-type 
rule, since the gradient descent equations for the c are ( 
Poggio and Girosi, 1989): 


c a = ii>y^ AjG(\\-Xi 

8 = 1 



with a = 1, . . . , n and A; is the squared error between 
the correct output for example i and the actual output 
of the network. Thus equation 5 says that the change 
in the c a should be proportional to the product of the 
activity of the unit i and the output error of the net- 
work. In other words, the "weights" of the c synapses 
will change depending on the product of pre- and post- 
synaptic activity ( Poggio and Girosi, 1989; Mel, 1988; 
Mel, 1990). 

In the RBF case, the centers are fixed after they are 
initially selected to conform to the input examples. In 
the HBF case, the centers move to optimal locations 
during learning. This movement may be seen as task- 
specific or supervised fine-tuning of the centers' stimulus 

selectivities. It is highly unlikely that the biological vi- 
sual system chooses between distinct RBF-like and HBF- 
like implementations for given problems. It is possible, 
though, that tuning of cell selectivities can occur in at 
least two different ways, corresponding to the supervised 
and unsupervised stages outlined here. We might also ex- 
pect that these two types of learning of "centers" could 
occur on two different time scales: one fast, correspond- 
ing to selecting centers from a pre-existing set, and one 
slow, corresponding to synthesizing new centers or re- 
fining their stimulus specificities. The cortical locations 
of these two mechanisms, one unsupervised, the other 
supervised, may be different and have interesting impli- 
cations on how to interpret data on transfer of learning 
(see Poggio, Fahle and Edelman, 1992). 

For fast, unsupervised learning, there might be a large 
reservoir of centers already available, most of them with 
an associated c = 0, as suggested by Mel (1990) in a 
slightly different context. The relevant ones would gain 
a non-zero weight during the adaptive process. Alterna- 
tively, the mechanism could be similar to some of the un- 
supervised learning models described by Linsker (1990), 
Intrator and Cooper (1991), Foldiak (1991) and others. 

Slow, supervised learning may occur by the stabiliza- 
tion of electrically close synapses depending on the de- 
gree to which they are co-activated (see, e.g. Mel, 1992). 
In this scheme, the changes will be formation and stabi- 
lization of synapses and synapse clusters (each synapse 
representing a Gaussian field) on a cortical pyramidal 
cell simply due to correlations of presynaptic activities. 
We suggest that this synthesis of new centers, as would 
be needed in learning to recognize unfamiliar objects, 
should be slower than selecting centers from an exist- 
ing pool. But some recent data on perceptual learning 
(e.g. Fiorentini and Berardi, 1981; Poggio, Fahle and 
Edelman, 1992; Kami and Sagi, 1990) indicates other- 
wise: the fact that human observers rapidly learn en- 
tirely novel visual patterns suggests that new centers 
might be synthesized rapidly. 

It seems reasonable to conjecture, though, that up- 
dating of the elements of the W matrix may take place 
on a much slower time scale. 

Do the update schemes have a physiologically plau- 
sible implementation? Methods like the random-step 
method ( Caprile and Girosi, 1990), that do not require 
calculation of derivatives, are biologically the most plau- 
sible. (In a typical random-step method, network weight 
changes are generated randomly under the guidance of 
simple rules; for example, the rule might be to double the 
size of the random change if the network performace im- 
proves and to halve the size if it does not.) In the Gaus- 
sian case, with basis functions synthesized through the 
product of Gaussian receptive fields, moving the centers 
means establishing or erasing connections to the prod- 
uct unit. A similar argument can be made also about the 
learning of the matrix W. Notice that in the diagonal 


Gaussian case the parameters to be changed are exactly 
the a of the Gaussians, i.e., the spread of the associated 
receptive fields. Notice also that the a for all centers 
on one particular dimension is the same, suggesting that 
the learning of W{ may involve the modification of the 
scale factor in the input arrays rather than a change in 
the dendritic spread of the postsynaptic neurons. In all 
these schemes the real problem consists in how to pro- 
vide the "teacher" input. 

4 Predictions and Remarks 

To summarize, we highlight the main predictions made 
by our interpretation of Memory-Based Models of the 


1. Sparse population coding. The general issue of 
how the nervous system represents objects and con- 
cepts is of course unresolved. "Sparse" or "punc- 
tate" coding theories propose that individual cells 
are highly specific and encode individual patterns. 
"Population" theories propose that distributed ac- 
tivity in a large number of cells underlies percep- 
tion. Models of the HBF type suggest that a small 
number of cells or groups of cells (the centers), each 
broadly tuned, may be sufficient to represent a 3D 
object. Thus our interpretation of MBMs predicts a 
"sparse population coding" , partway between fully 
distributed representations and grandmother neu- 
rones. Specifically, we predict that the activity of 
approximately 100 cells is sufficient to distinguish 
any particular object, although many more cells 
may be active at the same time. 

2. Viewer-centered and object-centered cells. 

Our model (see the module of Figure 7) predicts 
the existence of viewer-centered cells (the centers) 
and object-centered cells (the output of the net- 
work). Evidence pointing in this direction in the 
case of face cells in IT is already available. We 
predict a similar situation for other 3D objects. 
It should be noted that the module of Figure 7 is 
only a small part of an overall architecture. We 
predict the existence of other types of cells, such 
as pose-tuned, expression-tuned and illumination- 
tuned cells. Very recently N. Logothetis (pers. 
comm.) has succeeded in training monkeys to 
recognize the same objects used in human psy- 
chophysics, and has reproduced the key results of 
Bulthoff and Edelman (1992). He also succeeded in 
measuring generalization fields of the type shown in 
figure 5 after training on a single view. We believe 
that such a psychophysical^ measured generaliza- 
tion field corresponds to a group of cells tuned in 
a Gaussian-like manner to that view. We expect 
that in trained monkeys, cells exist corresponding 
to the hidden units of a HBF network, specific for 

the training view, as well as possibly other cells re- 
sponding to subparts of the view. We conjecture 
(although this is not a critical prediction of the the- 
ory) that the step of creating the tuned cells, i.e. 
the centers, is unsupervised: in other words, that 
to create the centers it would be sufficient to expose 
monkeys to target views without actually training 
them to respond in specific ways. 

3. Cells tuned to full views and cells tuned 
to parts. Our model implies that both high- 
dimensional and low-dimensional centers should 
exist for recognizable objects, corresponding to full 
templates and template parts. Physiologically this 
corresponds to cells that require the whole object 
to respond (say a face) as well as cells that respond 
also when only a part of the object is present (say, 
the mouth). 

4. Rapid Synaptic plasticity. We predict that the 
formation of new centers and the change in synap- 
tic weights may happen over short time scales (pos- 
sibly minutes) and relatively early in the visual 
pathway (see Poggio, Fahle and Edelman, 1992). 
As we mentioned, it is likely that the formation of 
new centers is unsupervised while other synaptic 
changes, corresponding to the c; coefficients, should 
be supervised. 

5 HBF-like modules and theories of the 

As theories of the brain (or of parts of it) HBFs networks 
replace computation with memory. They are equivalent 
to modules that work as interpolating look-up tables. In 
a previous paper one of us has discussed how theories 
of this type can be regarded as a modern version of the 
"grandmother cell" idea (Poggio, 1990). 

The proposal that much information processing in the 
brain is performed through modules that are similar to 
enhanced look-up tables is attractive for many reasons. 
It also promises to bring closer apparently orthogonal 
views, such as the immediate perception of Gibson (1979) 
and the representational theory of Marr (1982), since 
almost iconic "snapshots" of the world may allow the 
synthesis of computational mechanisms equivalent to vi- 
sion algorithms. The idea may change significantly the 
computational perspective on several vision tasks. As 
a simple example, consider the different specific tasks 
of hyperacuity employed by psychophysicists. The pro- 
posal would suggest that an appropriate module for the 
task, somewhat similar to a new "routine," may be syn- 
thesized by learning in the brain (see Poggio, Fahle and 
Edelman, 1992). 

The claim common to several network theories, such 
as Multilayer Perceptrons and HBF networks, is that 
the brain can be explained, at least in part, in terms of 
approximation modules. In the case of HBF networks 

these modules can be considered as a powerful extension 
of look-up tables. MLP networks cannot be interpreted 
directly as modified look-up tables (they are more similar 
to an extension of multidimensional Fourier series), but 
the case of normalized inputs shows that they are similar 
to using templates. 

The HBF theory predicts that population coding 
(broadly tuned neurons combined linearly) is a conse- 
quence of extending a look-up table scheme - corre- 
sponding to interval coding - to yield interpolation (or 
more precisely approximation), that is generalization. In 
other words, sparse population coding and neurons tuned 
to specific optimal stimuli are direct and strong predic- 
tions of HBF schemes. It seems that the hidden units of 
HBF models bear suggestive similarities with the usual 
descriptions of cortical neurons as being tuned to op- 
timal multidimensional stimuli. It is of course possible 
that a hierarchy of different networks - for example MLP 
networks - may lead to tuned cells similar to the hidden 
units of HBF networks. 

Acknowledgements This paper describes research done 
within the Center for Biological Information Processing in 
the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, and at the 
Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. This research is sponsored 
by a grant from NATO to Dr. Hurlbert and Dr. Poggio; 
by a grant from the Office of Naval Research, Cognitive and 
Neural Sciences Division; by the Office of Naval Research con- 
tract N00014-89-J-3139 under the DARPA Artificial Neural 
Network Technology Program and by a grant from the Na- 
tional Science Foundation under contract ASC-9217041 (in- 
cluding funds from DARPA provided under the HPCC pro- 
gram). Support for the A.I. Laboratory's artificial intelli- 
gence research is provided by ONR contract N00014-91-J- 
4038. Tomaso Poggio is supported by the Uncas and Helen 
Whitaker Chair at the Whitaker College, Massachusetts In- 
stitute of Technology. Anya Hurlbert's research is supported 
by the JCI (ESRC, SERC and MRC), SERC III, and the 
Royal Society, England. 


A An architecture for recognition: the 
classification and indexing route to 

Here we elaborate on the architecture for a recognition 
system introduced in Section 2. Figure 1 illustrates the 
main components of the architecture and its two inter- 
locking routes to recognition. The first route, which we 
call the classification and indexing route, is essentially 
equivalent to an earlier proposal ( Poggio and Edelman, 
1990) in which a HBF network receives inputs in the 
form of feature parameters and classifies inputs as same 
or different from the target object. This is a streamlined 
route to recognition which requires that the features ex- 
tracted in the early stages of image analysis be sufficient 
to enable matching with samples in the database. Its 
goal may be primarily basic level recognition, but it is 
also the route that might suit best the search for and 
recognition of an expected object. In that case it may be 
used to identify objects (at the subordinate level) whose 
class membership is known in advance. It consists of 3 
main stages: 

1. Image measurements 

The first step is to compute a primal image repre- 
sentation, which is a set of sparse measurements on 
the image, based on appropriate smoothed deriva- 
tives, corresponding to center-surround and direc- 
tional receptive fields. It can be argued that the 
(vector) measurements to be considered should be 
multiple nonlinear functions of differential opera- 
tors applied to the image at sparse locations (for a 
discussion of linear and non-linear measurement or 
"matching" primitives see Appendix in Nishihara 
and Poggio, 1984). (Similar procedures may in- 
volve using Gaussians of different scales and orien- 
tations [e.g. Marr and Poggio, 1977], Koenderink's 
"jets," [Koenderink and VanDoorn, 1990], Gabor 
filters, or wavelets. A regularized gradient of the 
image also works well.) We call this array of mea- 
surements an M-array; in general, it is a vector- 
valued array). For recognition of frontal images of 
faces an M-array as small as 30 x 30 has been found 
sufficient to encode an image of initial size 512 x 512 
(Brunelli and Poggio, 1992). 

2. Feature detection and measurements 

Key features, encoded by the primal measure- 
ments, are then found and localized. These fea- 
tures may be specific for a specific object class - 
for the expected class, if it is known in advance, 
or for an alternative class considered as a potential 
match. This step can be regarded as performing 
a sort of template matching with several appro- 
priate examples; when a face is the object of the 
search, templates may include eye pairs of different 
size, pose, and expression. In the HBF case the 
templates would effectively correspond to different 


centers, and matching would proceed in a more so- 
phisticated way than direct comparison. It is clear 
that this step may by itself accomplish segmenta- 
tion. These features may be local or global: they 
may correspond to eye corners or to mean values of 
the M-array filtered through a large set of filters. 

3. Classification and indexing 

Parameter values estimated by the preceding stage 
for the features of interest - e.g. the distance be- 
tween eyes and mouth - are used in this stage for 
classification and indexing in a database of known 
examples. In many cases this may lead by itself 
to unique recognition, especially when situational 
information, such as the expectedness of a partic- 
ular object, restricts the relevant data base. Clas- 
sification could be done via a number of classical 
schemes such as Nearest Neighbor or with modules 
that are more biologically plausible such as HBF 

Some open questions remain: 

• What are the features used by the human visual 
system in the feature detection stage? The "non- 
local" hypothesis is that there is a large set of filters 
tuned to different 2D shape features and efficiently 
doing a kind of template matching on the input. 
Some functional of the correlation function is then 
evaluated (such as the max of the correlation or 
some robust statistics on the correlation values, see 
Viola and Poggio, in preparation). The results may 
become some of the components (for that partic- 
ular filter, i.e. template) of the input vector to 
object-specific networks consisting of hidden units 
each tuned to a view and an output unit which is 
view-invariant. Networks of this type may also ex- 
ist not only for specific objects but also for general 
object components, perhaps similar to more precise 
versions of some of Biederman's geons (Biederman, 
1987). They would be synthesized by familiarity 
and their output may have a varying degree of view 
invariance depending on the type and number of 
the tuned cells in the hidden layer. Networks of 
this type, tuned to a particular shape, could easily 
be combined conjunctively to represent more com- 
plex shapes (but still exploiting the fundamental 
property of additivity). This general "non-local" 
scheme avoids the correspondence problem since 
the components of the input vectors are statistics 
taken over the whole image, rather than individual 
pixel values or feature locations. It may well be 
that - in the absence of a serial mechanism such 
as eye motions and attentional shifts - the visual 
system does not have a way to keep and use spatial 
relations between different components or feaures 
in an image and that it can only detect the likely 
"presence" of, say, a few hundred features of vari- 

ous complexity. 

• The architecture has to be hierarchical, consist- 
ing of a hierarchy of HBF-like networks. For in- 
stance, an eye-recognizing MBM network may pro- 
vide some of the inputs to a face recognition net- 
work that will combine the presence (and possibly 
relative position) of eyes with other face features 
(remember that a MBM network can be regarded 
as a disjunction of conjunctions). The inputs to the 
eye-recognizing networks may be themselves pro- 
vided by other RBF-like networks; this is similar 
to the use in the eye-recognizing networks of inputs 
that are the result of filtering the image through of 
a few basic filters out of a large vocabulary consist- 
ing of hundreds of "elementary" templates, repre- 
senting a vocabulary of shapes of the type described 
by Fujita and Tanaka (1992). The description of 
Perrett and Oram (1992) is consistent with this 
scenario. At various stages in this hierarchy more 
invariances may be achieved for position, rotation, 
scaling etc. in a similar way to how complex cells 
are built from simple ones. 

B An architecture for recognition: the 
visualization route to recognition 

The second potential route to recognition takes a neces- 
sary detour from the first route to fine-tune the matching 
mechanisms. Like the classification pathway it begins 
with the two stages of image measurement and feature 
detection, but diverges because it allows for the possi- 
bility that a match between the database and measured 
image features might not directly be found. Further pro- 
cessing may take place on the image or on the stored 
examples to bring the two into registration or to narrow 
the range of the latter. The main purpose of this loop 
is to correct for deformations before comparing image to 
data base. 

Computational arguments (Breuel, 1992) suggest that 
this route should separate transformations to be applied 
to the image (to correct image-plane deformations such 
as image-plane translations, scaling and rotations) from 
those to be applied to the database model (which may 
include rotations-in-depth, illumination changes, and al- 
terations in facial expression, for example). The system 
may try a number of transformations in parallel and on 
multiple scales of spatial resolution (see van Essen and 
Anderson, this volume) until it finds the one that suc- 
ceeds. In general the whole process may be iterated sev- 
eral times before it achieves a satisfactory level of con- 
fidence. In the primate visual system, the likely site for 
the latter transformations is cortical area IT, whereas the 
former would probably take place earlier, as available re- 
sults on properties of IT seems to suggest ( Gross, 1992; 
Perrett, 1982; Perrett and Harries, 1988; Perrett 
et. al., 1989). The main steps of this hypothetical second 

route to recognition are: 

1. Image measurement 

2. Feature detection 

3. Image rectification 

The feature detection stage provides information 
about the location of key features that is used in 
this stage to normalize for image-plane translation, 
scaling and image-plane rotation of the input M- 

4. Pose estimation 

3-D pose (2 parameters), illumination, and other 
parameters (such as facial expression) are es- 
timated from the M-array. This computation 
could be performed by an MBM module that has 
"learned" the appropriate estimation function from 
examples of objects of the same class. 

5. Visualization 

The models (M-arrays in the data-base correspond- 
ing to known objects) are warped in the dimensions 
of pose and expression and illumination, to bring 
them into register with the estimate obtained from 
the input image. The transformation of the models 
is performed by exploiting information specific to 
the given object (several views per object may have 
been stored in memory) or by applying a generic 
transformation (e.g., for a face, from "serious" to 
"smiling") learned from objects of the same class. 
Several transformations may be attempted at this 
stage before a good match is found in the next step. 

6. Verification and indexing 

The rectified "image" is compared with the warped 
data base of standard representations. Open ques- 
tions remain on how the data base may be orga- 
nized and what are the most efficient means of in- 
dexing it. 



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Figure 1: A sketch of an architecture for recognition with two hypothetical routes to recognition. Single arrows rep- 
resent the classification and indexing route described in Appendix A. Double arrows represent the main visualization 
route, and dashed arrows alternative pathways within it. 


Miix - 

Figure 2: A RBF network for the approximation of two-dimensional functions (left) and its basic "hidden" unit 
(right), x and y are components of the input vector which is compared via the RBF h at each center t. Outputs of 
the RBFs are weighted by the cj and summed to yield the function F evaluated at the input vector. N is the total 
number of centers. 



I t 





Figure 3: A sketch of possibly the most compact (but not the only!) implementation of the proposed recognition 
architecture in terms of modules of the HBF type. 


Figure 4: A network of the Hyper Basis Functions type. For object recognition the inputs could be image measurements 
such as values of different filters at each of a number of locations in the image. The network is a natural extension of 
the template matching scheme and contains it as a special case. The dotted lines correspond to linear and constant 
terms in the expansion. The output unit may contain a sigmoidal transformation of the sum of its inputs (see Poggio 
and Giro si, 1990b). 


Figure 5: The generalization field associated with a single training view. Whereas it is easy to distinguish between, 
say, tubular and amoeba-like 3D objects, irrespective of their orientation, the recognition error rate for specific objects 
within each of those two categories increases sharply with misorientation relative to the familiar view. This figure 
shows that the error rate for amoeba-like objects, previously seen from a single attitude, is viewpoint- dependent. 
Means of error rates of six subjects and six different objects are plotted vs. rotation in depth around two orthogonal 
axes (Bulthoff, Edelman and Sklar, 1991; Edelman and Bulthoff, 1992). The extent of rotation was ±60° in each 
direction; the center of the plot corresponds to the training attitude. Shades of gray encode recognition rates, at 
increments o/5% (white is better than 90%; black is 50%,). From Bulthoff and Edelman (1992a). Note that viewpoint 
independence can be achieved by familiarizing the subject with a sufficient number of training views of the 3D object. 


Figure 6: A three-dimensional radial Gaussian implemented by multiplying a two-dimensional and a one- dimensional 
Gaussian receptive field . The latter two functions are synthesized directly by appropriately weighted connections 
from the sensor arrays, as neural receptive fields are usually thought to arise. Notice that they transduce the implicit 
position of stimuli in the sensor array into a number (the activity of the unit). They thus serve the dual purpose of 
providing the required "number" representation from the activity of the sensor array and of computing a Gaussian 
function. 2D Gaussians acting on a retmotopic map can be regarded as representing 2D 'features" , while the radial 
basis function represents the "template" resulting from the conjunction of those lower- dimensional features. From 
Poggio and Girosi (1989a). 


ooo ••• o 



0, 1 

Figure 7: (a) The HBF network proposed for the recognition of a 3D object from any of its perspective views ( Poggio 
and Edelman, 1990). The network attempts to map any view (as defined in the text) into a standard view, arbitrarily 
chosen. The norm of the difference between the output vector f and the standard view s is thresholded to yield a 0, 1 
answer (instead of the standard view the output of the netwok can be directly a binary classification label). The 2N 
inputs accommodate the input vector v representing an arbitrary view. Each of the n radial basis functions is initially 
centered on one of a subset of the M views used to synthesize the system (n < M ). During training each of the M 
inputs in the training set is associated with the desired output, i.e., the standard view s. Fig. (b) shows a completely 
equivalent interpretation of (a) for the special case of Gaussian radial basis functions. Gaussian functions can be 
synthesized by multiplying the outputs of two-dimensional Gaussian receptive fields, that "look" at the retmotopic 
map of the object point features. The solid circles in the image plane represent the 2D Gaussians associated with the 
first radial basis function, which represents the first view of the object. The dotted circles represent the 2D receptive 
fields that synthesize the Gaussian radial function associated with another view. The 2D Gaussian receptive fields 
transduce values of features, represented implicitly as activity in a retmotopic array, and their product "computes" the 
radial function without the need of calculating norms and exponentials explicitly. From Poggio and Girosi (1990c).