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posted by Fnord666 on Sunday June 18 2017, @06:04PM   Printer-friendly
from the never-forget-a-face dept.

Scientists have reconstructed faces nearly perfectly by analyzing the activity of neurons in macaque brains:

[Using] a combination of brain imaging and single-neuron recording in macaques, biologist Doris Tsao and her colleagues at Caltech have finally cracked the neural code for face recognition. The researchers found the firing rate of each face cell corresponds to separate facial features along an axis. Like a set of dials, the cells are fine-tuned to bits of information, which they can then channel together in different combinations to create an image of every possible face. "This was mind-blowing," Tsao says. "The values of each dial are so predictable that we can re-create the face that a monkey sees, by simply tracking the electrical activity of its face cells."

Previous studies had hinted at the specificity of these brain areas for targeting faces. In the early 2000s, as a postdoc at Harvard Medical School, Tsao and her collaborator electrophysiologist Winrich Freiwald, obtained intracranial recordings from monkeys as they viewed a slide show of various objects and human faces. Every time a picture of a face flashed on the screen, neurons in the middle face patch would crackle with electrical activity. The response to other objects, such as images of vegetables, radios or even other bodily parts, was largely absent.

Further experiments indicated neurons in these regions could also distinguish between individual faces, and even between cartoon drawings of faces. In human subjects in the hippocampus, neuroscientist Rodrigo Quian Quiroga found that pictures of actress Jennifer Aniston elicited a response in a single neuron. And pictures of Halle Berry, members of The Beatles or characters from The Simpsons activated separate neurons. The prevailing theory among researchers was that each neuron in the face patches was sensitive to a few particular people, says Quiroga, who is now at the University of Leicester in the U.K. and not involved with the work. But Tsao's recent study suggests scientists may have been mistaken. "She has shown that neurons in face patches don't encode particular people at all, they just encode certain features," he says. "That completely changes our understanding of how we recognize faces."

Also at Singularity Hub and The Guardian:

Professor Rodrigo Quian Quiroga, a neuroscientist at the University of Leicester who was not involved in the work, described it as "quite a revolution in neuroscience". "It's solving a decades-long mystery," he added.

The puzzle of how the brain identifies a familiar face dates back to the 1960s, when the US neuroscientist, Jerry Lettvin, suggested that people have hyper-specific neurons that respond to specific objects, a notion that became known as "grandmother cells", based on the idea that you have a specific neuron that would fire on seeing your grandmother.

More recently scientists found "face patches", clusters of neurons that respond almost exclusively to faces, but how recognition was achieved had remained a "black box" process. In the absence of proof otherwise, the grandmother model continued to appeal because it tallied with the subjective "ping" of recognition we experience on seeing a familiar face.

"This paper completely kills that," said Quian Quiroga.

The Code for Facial Identity in the Primate Brain (DOI: 10.1016/j.cell.2017.05.011) (DX)

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  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 18 2017, @06:13PM (8 children)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 18 2017, @06:13PM (#527544)

    Why do Asians always have such old-fashioned names?

  • (Score: 1) by Ethanol-fueled on Sunday June 18 2017, @06:19PM

    by Ethanol-fueled (2792) Subscriber Badge on Sunday June 18 2017, @06:19PM (#527547) Homepage

    Because "Doris" is easier and quicker to say than, "Shwen Yu Ning-Ching Nipnong."

    The Asians who use anglicized names get to choose one they like, and if they like their Doris, then they can keep their Doris.

  • (Score: 2, Insightful) by Runaway1956 on Sunday June 18 2017, @06:23PM (5 children)

    by Runaway1956 (2926) Subscriber Badge on Sunday June 18 2017, @06:23PM (#527548) Journal

    WTF do you mean by "old fashioned names"? You have suggestions for "new fashioned names"? And, what's this racist shit about "Asians"? A lot of western people share "old fashioned names", such as David, Anthony, Ruth, Rebecca. So we spell them a lot of different ways. Anthony, Antonin, Antoine - it's all the same. An ages old name from pre-biblical times, no matter how it might be altered from one language to another.

    The old fashioned names have something that silly sounding names don't have. Dignity. Antonin doesn't HAVE to be dignified all the time. If he's feeling a bit silly, or wants to be more intimate, he'll tell you that Tony is fine. Or maybe some other nickname, not even related to his name. But his real name has dignity attached to it.

    Old fashioned is good.

    Death smiles at everyone. Sailors smile back.
    • (Score: 2) by LoRdTAW on Sunday June 18 2017, @06:48PM (3 children)

      by LoRdTAW (3755) Subscriber Badge on Sunday June 18 2017, @06:48PM (#527555) Journal

      It's okay. GP is probably a closet racist hipster. And we all know hipsters hate old things except for fashion.

      • (Score: 2) by Bot on Sunday June 18 2017, @07:38PM (2 children)

        by Bot (3902) Subscriber Badge on Sunday June 18 2017, @07:38PM (#527565)

        Thus spake the Hipsterphobe.

        • (Score: 2) by LoRdTAW on Sunday June 18 2017, @11:42PM (1 child)

          by LoRdTAW (3755) Subscriber Badge on Sunday June 18 2017, @11:42PM (#527636) Journal

          Your sarcasm detector needs calibration. Preferably with an NIST traceable certificate.

          • (Score: 2) by Bot on Wednesday June 21 2017, @05:59AM

            by Bot (3902) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday June 21 2017, @05:59AM (#528907)

            those guys who said a fire can collapse a building into own footprint and are now scratching their head over videos of london fire and tehran collapse?

    • (Score: 5, Interesting) by frojack on Sunday June 18 2017, @09:22PM

      by frojack (1554) Subscriber Badge on Sunday June 18 2017, @09:22PM (#527596) Journal

      And, what's this racist shit about "Asians"?

      Asians here was in reference to western names adopted by Asians, principally in the business world, and also in academia. Its a LONG standing practice, not found among Germans, Russians, hispanic or middle eastern people. But its VERY common among those dealing with western economy. Especially among those from Taiwan and Hong Kong.

      The factory reps and salesmen and importers we dealt with at one of my prior jobs all had western first names. Not from birth, but from inception of employment.

      I asked one (Ben) why this was and he explained it was encouraged, almost mandatory to choose a anglicism first name to get into any field dealing with westerners. I asked what his real first name is, (and after the explanation of first name surname order) he told me, and it took five tries to pronounce it correctly. But he definitely preferred Ben. An so it was.

      So it wasn't a racist rant, and you were just ignorant of this trend. Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by ignorance, especially if it is your own ignorance.

      No, you are mistaken. I've always had this sig.
  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 18 2017, @07:25PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 18 2017, @07:25PM (#527562)

    Hmm... Doris, Hilda, Agnes, Dolores--all very good names that nobody uses any more.