Spencer Kent

Reveal Contact Info

PhD Student

Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences

Olshausen Lab

Current Research

Our brains are so good at processing visual information to build a robust and general-purpose representation of 3D space that early researchers were tricked into thinking it would be somewhat easy to teach a computer to do the same. Fifty years later and we are still trying to get a handle on the right way to approach this problem – it turned out to be far more difficult than initially thought. My opinion is that we are missing something fundamental and that it has to do with finding a formalism for building highly structured representations of scenes that also support some form of statistical inference. The main thrust of my research is in searching for a unification between symbolic computation and neural network models in order to tackle this problem. Vector Symbolic Algebras (also known as High-dimensional computing) suggest a way to make some progress along these lines and my main interest is in using this framework to build flexible and robust scene representations.

My other interest is in signal processing that leverages what we know about real brains. This includes theories of neural coding (in particular, sparse coding) that may be useful in engineering systems heavily constrained by computational, storage, or energy consumption requirements.

Background

I am an electrical engineer by training and a theoretical neuroscientist by vocation. I did my undergrad at Rice during which time I worked on things like terahertz optics, radar, smart contact lenses, and self-driving cars. I also developed an interest in neuroscience through Jacob Robinson, Caleb Kemere, and others in the Electrical and Computer Engineering department who are trying to understand the brain. I joined Jacob’s lab my sophomore year and we worked on building tools for experimental neuroscience. I also remember going to a lecture by Bruno Olshausen, who was visiting from Berkeley and who came to talk about sparse coding models and vision. That had no small hand in me landing at Berkeley in 2015 to start a PhD and I joined the Redwood Center the following year.

I’m a musician and lover of music, from The Flecktones to Mahler and everything in between. I also think skiing is awesome and that taking photographs is the best way to recharge my battery, along with a good nap.