Unsupervised learning in images and audio to produce neural receptive fields: a primer and accessible notebook

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Sensory processing relies on efficient computation driven by a combination of low-level unsupervised, statistical structural learning, and high-level task-dependent learning. In the earliest stages of sensory processing, sparse and independent coding strategies are capable of modeling neural processing using the same coding strategy with only a change in the input (e.g., grayscale images, color images, and audio). We present a consolidated review of Independent Component Analysis (ICA) as an efficient neural coding scheme with the ability to model early visual and auditory neural processing. We created a self-contained, accessible Jupyter notebook using Python to demonstrate the efficient coding principle for different modalities following a consistent five-step strategy. For each modality, derived receptive field models from natural and non-natural inputs are contrasted, demonstrating how neural codes are not produced when the inputs sufficiently deviate from those animals were evolved to process. Additionally, the demonstration shows that ICA produces more neurally-appropriate receptive field models than those based on common compression strategies, such as Principal Component Analysis. The five-step strategy not only produces neural-like models but also promotes reuse of code to emphasize the input-agnostic nature where each modality can be modeled with only a change in inputs. This notebook can be used to readily observe the links between unsupervised machine learning strategies and early sensory neuroscience, improving our understanding of flexible data-driven neural development in nature and future applications.


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