The Operation Of Humans Vs. Computers

1593 words - 6 pages

The comparison of how humans and computers operate is an integral part of research in Cognitive Psychology. This essay discusses how this comparison allows us to turn ways in which humans and computers are similar into the development of useful computational models. These enhance our understanding of human perception in more detailed and quantitative ways which traditional research would not allow. It contrasts this by describing ways in which humans and computers are different, highlighting how such models may have limited application, and must be kept in perspective. The field of visual perception is one which has made good use of computational models to advance its knowledge, and so is a logical exemplar.

One of the first instances of using a computational model to research visual perception was in response to the classic problem “how does the visual system ‘know’ that the varied appearance of a coloured surface is a property of the surface rather than its illumination?” (Gordon, 2004, p. 187). Both Land and McCann (1971) and Horn (1974) suggested that the key distinction is that the effect of a change in illumination is gradual, whereas changes that are because of an object’s edges are abrupt. To investigate, they recorded output differences from two adjacent detectors which sample lightness values. They found that the difference in output on a uniform surface with a change in illumination was small and insignificant, whereas when the detectors were on either side of a boundary between two surfaces of different lightness, there was a large difference in output. This suggests that our visual system uses a similar method to detect important changes in surfaces properties and distinguish them from transitory changes in illumination. This research played an important role in the formation of subsequent theories by Marr (1982). While he did not agree entirely with the findings of Land and McCann, he approved of their style of analysis, which heavily influenced his three levels of understanding information systems. These were three distinct and separate levels; the computational theory, the algorithm, and the hardware implementation. Marr used a cash register as an example of a computer to explain them.

The first level (Marr, 1982), the computational theory, requires us to define the goal of the computation, its appropriateness, and the strategy by which it is carried out. In the case of the cash register, the function is to add together sums of money, so the computational theory here is the rules of arithmetic. The next level, the algorithm, is how the computational theory is implemented, in terms of input, output and transformation. The input for the cash register is sums of money, and the output is their totals. The transformation is what the machine has actually done with the data, most likely converting it into binary if the register is part of a large computer network. The final level, the hardware implementation, is the explanation of...

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