Have you ever looked at your eyes?

Neurology of eye movement

Fun conversation at my local Starbucks this morning: my big coffee in my hand, I was walking back home when I noticed a 20-something on the patio reading a book. I could see the cover: The Neurology of Eye Movement.

Many people don’t know this, but although our brain perceives our vision stream as a continuous moving and scanning process, which is NOT what happens at the physical level. Most of the time our eyes move in little jerks, called ‘saccades.’ And between our eyes, our optic nerve and our brain, some amazing and wondrous things occur to give the impression of continuous movement. There are phenomenon such as saccadic masking, spatial updating and trans-saccadic perception that are 1) very interesting in themselves; 2) sometimes go wrong from a medical perspective; and 3) almost certainly have important lessons for technology companies working on machine vision.

It may turn out that robot vision is nothing like human vision, and there’s no overlap. Or there may (just as the Wright brothers designed their airplane wings to mimic observed aspects of biological flight of birds) be ways in which we can base our technological solutions for vision on tricks that evolution has already figured out! Next, when we develop technologies for human blindness (think Geordi’s visor on Star Trek: TNG), we will need to make sure that the chips produce outputs that can be processed by a visual cortex that is designed to work with saccade-like inputs, rather than the continuous scan that current digital cameras provide!


[I asked the guy on the patio if he was reading for medical purposes or technological. As it happened, he is a PhD student working on his dissertation, and he is looking at it from the brain damage perspective. We had a great chat about saccades and technology. Who knew getting a coffee could be so educational?!?!]


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