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Biologically Inspired Algorithms for Restoring Vision to the Blind

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Thursday, March 07, 2019
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12:00 pm - 1:00 pm
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Michael Beyeler

Degenerative retinal diseases such as retinitis pigmentosa and macular degeneration cause irreversible vision loss in more than 10 million people worldwide. Analogous to cochlear implants, retinal prostheses use a grid of electrodes to stimulate surviving retinal cells in order to evoke visual percepts. However, a major outstanding challenge in the use of these devices is translating electrode stimulation into a code that the visual system can interpret. A common misconception is that each electrode in the grid can be thought of as a 'pixel' in an image; to generate a complex visual experience, one then simply needs to turn on the right combination of pixels.
Contrary to this belief, I will present recent evidence showing that the generated visual experience includes nontrivial perceptual distortions caused by interactions between the implant electronics and the retinal neurophysiology. I will present a computational model based on clinical and psychophysical data that accurately predicts these distortions across a wide range of subjects and implant configurations. I will discuss how detailed knowledge of the visual system can be combined with data-driven techniques to develop novel encoding algorithms aimed at minimizing distortions and improving patient outcomes. I will outline future strategies for leveraging virtual/augmented reality to quickly and efficiently test novel stimulation strategies in real-world tasks using visually typical individuals as 'virtual patients'.