Dana Ballard, a computer science professor of the University of Texas at Austin, on Monday was presented the 2014 Distinguished Cognitive Scientist Award at UC Merced.
Each year, the cognitive and information sciences department of UC Merced invites one professional to the campus to be recognized for his or her work in field of cognitive science.
This year, Ballard was selected for his contributions to artificial intelligence and computer vision, according to David Noelle, associate professor at the School of Social Sciences, Humanities and Arts. Ballard is considered a pioneer in the investigation of biologically based approaches to computation, including neural networks, reinforcement learning and evolutionary algorithms, Noelle said.
After receiving his award, Ballard gave a presentation titled “Why Do We Look Where We Look?”
During his talk, Ballard, whose work focuses on computational theories of the brain with an emphasis on human vision, discussed his research on the eye’s movement system. The system reaches velocities of about 700 degrees per second, he said, making about about 150,000 stable fixations per day. And every fixation, he explained, has a purpose directed by the brain.
His research focused on finding out how the human brain determines what the eye will focus on. He explained how findings suggest that the gaze system does not choose locations based on the visual itself, but rather on their value in “furthering the brain’s cognitive agenda.”
Ballard was part of a team that designed and built a high-speed binocular camera control system capable of simulating human eye movements. This system led to a better understanding of the role of behavior in human vision. Ballard said he plans to continue this research.
“The mission (of this research) is to learn to take the direction of gaze very seriously,” Ballard said.
His studies of the human visual system have led to fundamental changes in how perceptual processes are conceived, according to his biography. Ballard is also known for developing innovative artificial intelligence methods for radiology and medical image processing, as well as co-writing a textbook on computer vision.
Ballard spent 30 years at the University of Rochester before joining the faculty at the University of Texas at Austin in 2006.