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Pattern recognition in computer vision

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The traditional approach to face identification is to look for distinctive features – eyes, nose, mouth - and then match them with those of the other image or images. This approach is complex and limited to face identification. In order to develop a content independent approach, one has to look at the pixels.

1 Images as points in multidimensional spaces

A common and straightforward approach to data representation and pattern recognition is as follows. Suppose you have a collection of 100x100 images. Then you rearrange the rows of this 100x100 “matrix” into a 10,000-vector. As a result, each image is represented as a point in the 10,000-dimensional Euclidean space. This is clearly a brute force approach. However, something like that is inevitable if you don’t have an insight into the nature of the problem. Once all the data is in a Euclidean space (no matter how large) all statistical, data processing and pattern recognition methods can be used. Nice! The most common method is probably clustering – looking for groups of points unusually close to each other.

There are however limits of its applicability in analysis of images.

First you notice is that this approach can only work as long as all images have the same dimensions. It gets trickier if you study images of different dimensions. For example, if you had both 30x20 images and 1x600 images in the collection, that would really mess up everything! In a less extreme case, the presence of 30x20 and 20x30 images in the collection would be a problem. Of course you can simply add extra blank pixels up to 30x30 as a “common denominator”. However, it is clear that such a problem (and such an awkward solution) may be an indication of bigger issues with the whole approach.

Does this approach preserve the structural information (topology and geometry) contained in the image? The very first thing to look at is the adjacency of pixels. Since each pixel corresponds to an independent dimension, it seems that the adjacency is still contained in those coordinates: (a,b,…) is not the same as (b,a,…). Wrong!

It suffices to look at the distance between points – images - in this 10,000-dimensional space. It can be defined in a number of ways, but as long as it is symmetric we have a problem. Suppose the distance between (1,0,…,0) and (0,1,0,…,0) is d. Then the distance between (1,0,…,0) and (0,0,…,0,1) is also d. Here (1,0,…,0) and (0,1,0,…,0) are two images with a single pixel in each – located adjacent to each other - while (0,0,…,0,1) has a pixel in the opposite corner! The result is odd and you have to ask yourself, can clustering be meaningful here?

2 Clustering issues

Suppose A, B, and C are images with a single black pixel in the left upper corner, next to it, and the right bottom corner respectively. Then, the distances will be the equal: d(A,B) = d(B,C) = d(C,A), no matter how you define the distance d(,) between points in this space. The conclusion: if A and B are in the same cluster, then so is C. So adjacency of pixels and distance between them is lost in this representation!

One may try to explain this away, as follows. The three images are essentially blank so it’s not surprising that they are close to the blank image and to each other. So as long as pixels are “small” the difference between these four images is justifiably negligible.

Of course, “small” pixels means “small” with respect to the size of the image. This means high resolution. High resolution means larger image (for the same “physical” object), which means higher dimension of the Euclidean space, which means higher computational costs. Not a good sign.

To take this line of thought all the way to the end, we have to ask the question: what if we keep increasing resolution?

The image will simply turn into an exact copy of the “physical” object (2D). Initially, the image is a table of numbers. Now, you can think of the table as a rectangle subdivided into small squares, then the image is a function to the reals constant on each of these squares. As the resolution grows, the rectangle remains the same but the squares become smaller. In the end we have a - possibly continuous – function (as the limit of this sequence of functions, see Convergence). This is the “real” image and the rest are its approximations.

It’s not as clear what happens to the representations of images in the Euclidean space. The dimension of this space grows and in the end becomes infinite! It also seems that this new space should be made of infinite strings of numbers. That does not work out.

Indeed, consider this (“real”) image: a white square with a black upper left quarter. Let’s represent it first as a 2x2 image. Then in the 4-dimensional Euclidean space this image is (1,0,0,0). Now let’s increase the resolution. If this is a 4x4 image, it is (1,1,0,0,1,1,0,0,..,0) in the 16-dimensional space. In the 32-dimensional space it’s (1,1,1,1,0,0,0,0,1,1,1,1,0,0,0,0,1,1,1,1,0,…,0). You can see the pattern. But what is the end result (as the limit of this sequence of points)? It can’t be (1,1,1,…), can it? It definitely isn’t the original image. That image can’t even be represented as a string of numbers, not in any obvious way…

OK, these are just signs that there may be something wrong with this approach. A more tangible problem is "registration".

For more see Clustering.

3 Registration issues

Thus, using the closeness of these points as a measurement of similarity between images ignores the way the pixels are attached to each other. A deeper problem is that unless the two images are aligned first, there is no way to use this representation to discover that they depict the same or similar thing. The proper term for this alignment is Image registration.

The similarity between images represented this way will be entirely based on their overlap. As result, the distance can be large even between images that we would consider similar. We have examples of one-pixel images above. More realistic examples are these:

  • image with an object in one corner one with the same object in another corner;
  • image of a cross and the same cross turned 45 degrees;
  • etc.

4 Face identification

Paper: [1]

As the faces are points in the 10,000-dimensional space, these points should be grouped somehow. The point is that all images of the same individual should belong to one group and not any other. It is common to consider “clusters” of points, i.e., groups formed of point close to each other. This was discussed above.

Now, in this paper the approach is different: a new point (the face to be identified) is represented as a linear combination of all other points (all faces in the collection).

As we know from linear algebra, this implies the following. (1) the entire collection has to be linearly dependent, (2) you can find a sub-collection that adds up to 0! In other words, everything cancels out and you end up with a blank photo. Is it possible? If the dimension is low or the collection is large (the images are small relative to the number of images), maybe. What if the collection is small? (It is small – see below.) It seems unlikely. Why do I think so? Consider this very extreme case: you may need the negative for each face to cancel it: same shape with dark vs. light hair, skin, eyes, teeth (!).…

Second, the new image in the collection has to be a linear combination of training images of the same person. In other words, any image of person A is represented as a linear combination of other images of A in the collection, ideally. (More likely this image is supposed to be closer to the linear space spanned by these images.) The approach could only work under the assumption that people are linearly independent:

No face in the collection can be represented as a linear combination of the rest of the faces.

It’s a bold assumption.

If it is true, then the challenge is to make the algorithm efficient enough. The idea is that you don’t need all of those pixels/features and they in fact could be random. That must be the point of the paper.

The testing was done on two collections with several thousand images each. That sounds OK, but the number of individuals in these collections was 38 and 114!

To summarize, there is nothing wrong with the theory but its assumptions are unproven and the results are untested.

See also Bad math.