The 'wow' of surprise quantified in new computer model

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London, Jan 15 (ANI): While all of us have experienced surprises in our lives, scientists have now created a computer model that has actually defined it-surprise is a change in expectation caused by the arrival of new data.

Making use of a rather aptly named unit of measurement- the "wow"- Pierre Baldi at the University of California, Irvine, and Laurent Itti at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles developed the model while investigating human attention.

According to a popular 1950s theory, what is unknown catches more of our attention till the time we understand it completely, for example our attention should hover over intricate patterns longer than over a plain surface.

The researchers claimed that we focus more on objects or movements that attract our attention by being surprising or unexpected.

And from what they have computed, surprise may also explain the reason behind the "orienting reflex", whereby our attention is caught by novel stimuli.

Thus, in order to test their hypothesis, they developed a computer model, which simulated a population of visual neurons "watching" video clips, just like the brain would watch it through the eye's retina.

Using the model to analyse short video clips, they marked the regions of the videos it considered the most surprising rated them in wows.

"Something that is very surprising has a high wow content," New Scientist magazine quoted Baldi as saying.

It was found that when the videos were shown to human volunteers, their eye movements correlated with what the computer had rated as being worthy of attention.

"We found that human observers did indeed look at surprising things while watching TV, much more than they looked at information-rich objects," said Itti.

Itti claimed that the model could have wide-ranging applications-it could be used to rank websites for interest, for example those providing more original content could be pointed out, while spammers, copycats and aggregator sites may be classified as boring.

He also said that the model could also be used to design more eye-catching advertisements.

The researchers are now carrying out experiments in monkeys to see if individual retinal neurons compute surprise like their model. (ANI)

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