Sunday, June 13, 2010

everything is misc -- torralba cvpr paper to check out

Weinberger's Everything is Miscellaneous is a delightful read -- I just finished it today while flying from PIT to SFO.  It was recommended to me by my PhD advisor, Alyosha, and now I can see why!  Many of the key motivations behind my current research on object representation deeply resonate in Weinberger's book.

Weinberger motivates Rosch's theory of categorization (the Prototype Model), and explains how it is a significant break from the thousand years of Aristotelian thought.  Aristotle gave us the notion of a category -- centered around the notion of a definition.  For Aristotle, every object can be stripped to its essential core, and place in its proper place in a God's-eye objective organization of the world.  It was Rosch who showed us that categories are much fuzzier and more hectic than suggested by the rigid Aristotelian system. Just like Copernicus single-handedly stopped the Sun and set the Earth in motion, Rosch disintegrated our neatly organized world-view and demonstrated how an individual's path through life shapes h/er concepts.

I think it is fair to say that my own ideas as well as Weinberger's aren't so much an extension of the Roschian mode of thought, but also a significant break from the entire category-based way of thinking.  Given that Rosch studied Wittgenstein as a student, I'm surprised her stance wasn't more extreme, more along the anti-category line of thought.  I don't want to undermine her contribution to psychology and computer science in any way, and I want to be clear that she should only be lauded for her remarkable research.  Perhaps Wittgenstein was as extreme and iconoclastic as I like my philosophers to be, but Rosch provided us with a computational theory and not just a philosophical lecture.

From my limited expertise in theories of categorization in the field of Psychology, whether it is Prototype Models or the more recent data-driven Exemplar Models, these theories are still theories of categories.  Whether the similarity computations are between prototypes and stimuli, or between exemplars and stimuli, the output of a categorization model is still a category.  Weinberger is all about modern data-driven notions of knowledge organization, in a way that breaks free from the imprisoning notion of a category.  Knowledge is power, so why imprison it in rigid modules called categories?  Below is a toy visualization of a web of concepts, as imagined by me.  This is very much the web-based view of the world.  Wikipedia is a bunch of pages and links.

Artistic rendition of a "web of concepts"

I found it valuable to think of the Visual Memex, the model I'm developing in my thesis research, as an anti-categorization model of knowledge -- a vast network of object-object relationships.  The idea of using little concrete bits of information to create a rich non-parametric web is the recurring theme in Weinberger's book.  In my case, the problem of extracting primitives from images, and all of the problem in dealing with real-world images are around to plague me, and the Visual Memex must rely on many Computer Vision techniques -- such things are not discussed in Weinberger's book.  The "perception" or "segmentation" component of the Visual Memex is not trivial -- where linking words on the web is much easier.

CVPR paper to look out for

However, the category-based view is all around us.  I expect most of this year's CVPR papers to fit in this category-based view of the world. One paper, co-authored by the great Torralba, looks relevant to my interests.  It is yet another triumph for the category-based mentality in computer vision.  In fact, one of the figures in the paper demonstrates the category-based view of the world very well.  Unlike the memex, the organization is explicit in the following figure:

Myung Jin Choi, Joseph Lim, Antonio Torralba, and Alan S. Willsky. CVPR 2010.