Widely Applied Mathematics Seminars

Segmenting and tracking visual objects: a new computational theory

Doris Tsao, Professor of Biology, University of California, Berkeley

Feb 3, 2022
3:00 pm to 4:00 pm | Remote

The survival of any animal depends on its ability to successfully interact with the objects in its environment, whether foraging for food, building a shelter, or identifying a conspecific. Thus, persistent objects, independently movable chunks of matter, constitute the fundamental unit of organization in an animal’s ecological universe. How does the brain come to represent such chunks as distinct, persistent wholes?

I will discuss a new mathematical theory of persistent surface representation (cf. The mathematical structure of light rays reflected from environment surfaces yields a natural representation of persistent surfaces, and this surface representation provides a solution to both the segmentation and tracking problems. I will describe how to generate this surface representation from continuous visual input, and present computational results showing how the approach can segment and invariantly track objects in the cluttered synthetic video despite severe appearance changes due to changes in viewpoint, occlusion, and object deformation, without requiring learning. Finally, I will speculate on where and how this surface representation might be implemented by the primate visual system. 

Speaker Bio

Dr. Doris Y. Tsao is a Professor of Biology at the University of California Berkeley and Investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. She studied biology and mathematics at Caltech as an undergraduate and then received her Ph.D. in neuroscience from Harvard in 2002, under the guidance of Margaret Livingstone. The central question that guides her lab is: how does the brain represent the visual world? Her interests span all levels of the visual brain, from early/mid-level retinotopic areas, to high-level areas in the parietal and temporal lobes, to prefrontal cortex. She is especially interested in visual object representation (for a recent review, see Hesse & Tsao, Nature Reviews Neuroscience 2020). Dr.Tsao has received multiple honors including the Sofia Kovalevskaya Award, the Eppendorf and Science International Prize in Neurobiology, and a MacArthur Fellowship. She is a member of the National Academy of Science.


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