The independent components of natural scenes are edge filters.

Anthony J. Bell,Terrence J. Sejnowski, and Marian Stewart Bartlett

Society for Neuroscience Abstracts 23(1); p. 456.


Field (1994) has suggested that neurons with line and edge selectivities found in primary visual cortex of cats and monkeys form a sparse, distributed representaton of natural scenes, and Barlow (1989) has reasoned that such responses should emerge from an unsupervised learning algorithm that attempts to find a factorial code of independent visual features. We show here that a new unsupervised learning algorithm based on information maximisation, a non-linear `infomax' network (Bell & Sejnowski, 1995), when applied to an ensemble of natural scenes produces sets of visual filters that are localised and oriented. Some of these filters are Gabor-like and resemble those produced by the sparseness-maximisation network of Olshausen & Field (1996). In addition, the outputs of these filters are as independent as possible, since this infomax network performs Independent Components Analysis or ICA, for sparse (super-Gaussian) component distributions. We compare the resulting ICA filters and their associated basis functions, with other decorrelating filters produced by Principal Components Analysis (PCA) and zero-phase whitening filters (ZCA). The ICA filters have more sparsely distributed (kurtotic) outputs on natural scenes. They also resemble the receptive fields of simple cells in visual cortex, which suggests that these neurons form a natural, information-theoretic co-ordinate system for natural images.