Decoding the Brain’s Facial Recognition

In what’s being called “a major breakthrough that is destined to be famous for as long as people read about neuroscience,” researchers at Pasadena’s California Institute of Technology have successfully reconstructed facial images by monitoring just 205 neurons in monkey brains.

It was previously thought that facial recognition in the brain was much more complex; perhaps specific facial features were encoded somehow, and matched against a database of people you know in order to yield instant recognition of the people that are important to you. But, all it takes is a couple of hundred neurons to successfully distill a face down to the features you need to recognize it.

This study correlated the output of the brain’s “face patch” of neurons with measurements of the shapes of faces – for example, the distance between the eyes – and the color and texture of the skin. Nothing more. By doing this, they were able to reconstruct images of faces based purely on the activity of these neurons, which humans were able to recognize compared to original photos 80% of the time.

These findings were reported yesterday in the journal Cell.

As a computer scientist, I find these results especially exciting. It suggests that a task as complex as facial recognition can be accomplished with hardly any “hardware” – the magic is in the algorithms our brains have evolved. This means artificial intelligence may be closer than we thought, if we can continue to crack this code.

Image credit: / bowie15

How do Flamingos Sleep Standing on One Leg?

…especially the ones that aren’t on a lawn and made of plastic? Here at Frank’s Geekery headquarters in Florida, this is a burning question.

A couple of researchers in Atlanta wondered the same thing and published their findings in The Royal Society’s Biology Letters.

To answer this question, they obtained “two fresh-frozen adult Caribbean flamingo cadavers” from a zoo in Birmingham, Alabama, thawed them out, and started messing around with them.

It turns out they were able to lock one leg of a Flamingo and just prop it up. Their knee joint has developed such that it can lock in place, and apply the force of the bird’s weight directly above it. Standing on one leg requires zero energy from a Flamingo and works even if you’re getting blown around a bit by the wind. Even a dead Flamingo can do it. The results were carefully measured and documented, in the name of science.

In contrast, standing on two legs actually requires more energy, as things aren’t as well balanced in that configuration.

So now you know.


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