Samuel Gershman, Robert Wilson
Optimal control entails combining probabilities and utilities. However, for most practical problems probability densities can be represented only approximately. Choosing an approximation requires balancing the benefits of an accurate approximation against the costs of computing it. We propose a variational framework for achieving this balance and apply it to the problem of how a population code should optimally represent a distribution under resource constraints. The essence of our analysis is the conjecture that population codes are organized to maximize a lower bound on the log expected utility. This theory can account for a plethora of experimental data, including the reward-modulation of sensory receptive fields.