Date of Award

Fall 9-2014

Embargo Period


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Computer Science


Mike Lewicki


Scene perception is a fundamental aspect of vision. Humans are capable of analyzing behaviorally-relevant scene properties such as spatial layouts or scene categories very quickly, even from low resolution versions of scenes. Although humans perform these tasks effortlessly, they are very challenging for machines. Developing methods that well capture the properties of the representation used by the visual system will be useful for building computational models that are more consistent with perception. While it is common to use hand-engineered features that extract information from predefined dimensions, they require careful tuning of parameters and do not generalize well to other tasks or larger datasets. This thesis is driven by the hypothesis that the perceptual representations are adapted to the statistical properties of natural visual scenes. For developing statistical features for global-scale structures (low spatial frequency information that encompasses entire scenes), I propose to train hierarchical probabilistic models on whole scene images. I first investigate statistical clusters of scene images by training a mixture model under the assumption that each image can be decoded by sparse and independent coefficients. Each cluster discovered by the unsupervised classifier is consistent with the high-level semantic categories (such as indoor, outdoor-natural and outdoor-manmade) as well as perceptual layout properties (mean depth, openness and perspective). To address the limitation of mixture models in their assumptions of a discrete number of underlying clusters, I further investigate a continuous representation for the distributions of whole scenes. The model parameters optimized for natural visual scenes reveal a compact representation that encodes their global-scale structures. I develop a probabilistic similarity measure based on the model and demonstrate its consistency with the perceptual similarities. Lastly, to learn the representations that better encode the manifold structures in general high-dimensional image space, I develop the image normalization process to find a set of canonical images that anchors the probabilistic distributions around the real data manifolds. The canonical images are employed as the centers of the conditional multivariate Gaussian distributions. This approach allows to learn more detailed structures of the local manifolds resulting in improved representation of the high level properties of scene images.