Compressive neural representation of sparse, high-dimensional probabilities

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 25 (NIPS 2012)

Bibtex Metadata Paper


Zachary Pitkow


This paper shows how sparse, high-dimensional probability distributions could be represented by neurons with exponential compression. The representation is a novel application of compressive sensing to sparse probability distributions rather than to the usual sparse signals. The compressive measurements correspond to expected values of nonlinear functions of the probabilistically distributed variables. When these expected values are estimated by sampling, the quality of the compressed representation is limited only by the quality of sampling. Since the compression preserves the geometric structure of the space of sparse probability distributions, probabilistic computation can be performed in the compressed domain. Interestingly, functions satisfying the requirements of compressive sensing can be implemented as simple perceptrons. If we use perceptrons as a simple model of feedforward computation by neurons, these results show that the mean activity of a relatively small number of neurons can accurately represent a high-dimensional joint distribution implicitly, even without accounting for any noise correlations. This comprises a novel hypothesis for how neurons could encode probabilities in the brain.