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Will a computer ever attend a party?

28.08.2006
At a noisy party our senses are quite remarkable – even above the noise of music and the general clink of glasses, we can understand what people around us are saying by combining what we hear with lip reading.

This unique ability of animals to combine sensory information is something that machines could do well to emulate. Earlier this week the Department of Computing and the Department of Psychology at the University of Surrey, together with the University of Manchester, jointly hosted a Workshop on Biologically Inspired Information Fusion to see if we could learn how animals achieve this multi-sensory processing in order to translate that into technology.

Representatives from the disciplines of biology, psychology, computer science and robotics attended to give their perspective on sensory fusion in order to encourage inter-disciplinary collaboration and provide training. Attendees from the UK, USA, Italy, Ireland, Germany, France and Australia worked together to make the workshop productive, with lots of lively discussion about how the different disciplines can work together to help each other understand multi-sensory processing in humans and animals. A key objective was to discuss how cross-discipline information might be used to build systems that can fuse different sources of information, say video and audio signals, in a bid to make more intelligent systems.

One of the highlights of the workshop was the tutorial given by Professor Barry Stein of Wake Forest University School of Medicine, who provided a very engaging and detailed presentation of his work on understanding how animals combine audio, visual and tactile sensation in order to react to events in their surroundings. Similar talks on behaviour and brain imaging studies of animals, sensory processing in robots and software fusion systems were given by other key speakers. Current work by researchers in the different fields was also presented to provoke discussion by posing controversial questions. Finally, to help foster student research, a dedicated session was held for students to present their work and get feedback from the leaders in the disciplines.

Overall there was strong debate about the objectives needed to extend collaboration and bring together the disciplines, with good feedback received as to the effectiveness of the workshop. The work was funded by the EPSRC and by Surrey’s Institute of Advanced Studies.

Stuart Miller | alfa
Further information:
http://www.soc.surrey.ac.uk/ias/workshops/biif
http://www.surrey.ac.uk

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