Spacefem (spacefem) wrote,

image processing, brain development, computers vs. toddlers

Towards the end of my master's degree my main focus was on image processing algorithms. Specifically, I got into video processing and identifying changes between frames to identify the moving objects. It was related to a bigger goal the department had about sports highlights... could we get a computer to run through a nine-inning baseball game and figure out the important parts? We could use crowd noise, or identify individual plays to segment it to start off... it was complicated.

Image processing is one of the last categories of things that we feel like computers should do, but they really can't, not as well as humans. I could hand you a stack of photos and you'd just run through them and know all kinds of things... "this is a vacation, this is a beach, this is a classroom, I can tell by the chairs and the guy standing up front..."

But if you search google for images right now, all it can really do is tell what's in the picture based on what people are saying around it. This is one of the greatest technology companies in the world, and its big feature is that you can choose between photos from clipart drawings.

Josie is making me think of that work a LOT. Here's the issue... during my grad school work I just thought of my human brain as a fantastic image processing machine because it had 30 years of information to draw from. I'm learning now that it doesn't take 30 years.

Josie is 22 months old and might even be a better image processor than me. We buy her boots, and the next day she knows the word boots, and can identify boots in every context, almost any book, the color doesn't matter, they can be on a bear or just alone in a picture by themselves. She hasn't picked up on shapes yet and can't reliably point to a circle. But she knows ball, bowl, and all kinds of circle shaped things. I could teach a computer what a circle is, and hope that the ball is a circle shape and maybe assign some attributes from there? But a toddler just goes straight to the object. Every day now she knows words that we didn't think she knew, and have no idea how she learned them. It happens most often with animals, she knows butterfly and giraffe and elephant, although I'm not sure why animals have such a strong ability to stick with her. Especially since, again, it seems odd that Josie can distinguish a dog from a horse before she can tell a square from a triangle, they seem like they'd be so much more simple?

It's a little scary thinking about what all those engineering and computer science PhDs are working on, I knew humans were better than computers but I didn't think baby humans were better than computers. I have a perfectly average toddler who's just now learning lots of words and obviously knows a lot more than she can verbalize, she's been understanding us for months ("go get your shoes" worked, like, a year ago or something?) Our brains are special things, almost to the extent of being scary.
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