High-contrast “gaudy” images improve the training of deep neural network models of visual cortex

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 33 (NeurIPS 2020)

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Benjamin Cowley, Jonathan W. Pillow


A key challenge in understanding the sensory transformations of the visual system is to obtain a highly predictive model that maps natural images to neural responses. Deep neural networks (DNNs) provide a promising candidate for such a model. However, DNNs require orders of magnitude more training data than neuroscientists can collect because experimental recording time is severely limited. This motivates us to find images that train highly-predictive DNNs with as little training data as possible. We propose high-contrast, binarized versions of natural images---termed gaudy images---to efficiently train DNNs to predict higher-order visual cortical responses. In simulation experiments and analyses of real neural data, we find that training DNNs with gaudy images substantially reduces the number of training images needed to accurately predict responses to natural images. We also find that gaudy images, chosen before training, outperform images chosen during training by active learning algorithms. Thus, gaudy images overemphasize features of natural images that are the most important for efficiently training DNNs. We believe gaudy images will aid in the modeling of visual cortical neurons, potentially opening new scientific questions about visual processing.