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Published by: Victor Manuel Magariños Pichel on May 06, 2013
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In common parlance, “remembering” something consists of associating an idea or thought with a sensory cue. For example,
someone may mention the name of a celebrity, and we immediately recall a TV series or newspaper article about the
celebrity. Or, we may be shown a picture of a place we have visited and the image recalls memories of people we met and
experiences we enjoyed at the time. The sense of smell (olfaction) can also elicit memories and is known to be especially
effective in this way

It is difficult to describe and formalize these very high-level examples and so we shall consider a more mundane instance
that, nevertheless, contains all the aspects of those above. Consider the image shown on the left of Figure 7.1. This is
supposed to represent a binarized version of the letter “T” where open and filled circular symbols represent 0s and 1s
respectively (Sect. 4.6.1). The pattern in the centre of the figure is the same “T” but with the bottom half replaced by noise—
pixels have been assigned a value 1 with probability 0.5. We might imagine that the upper half of the letter is provided as a
cue and the bottom half has to be recalled from memory. The pattern on the right hand side is obtained from the original “T”
by adding 20 per cent noise—each pixel is inverted with probability 0.2. In this case we suppose that the whole memory is
available but in an imperfectly recalled form, so that the task is to “remember” the original letter in its uncorrupted state. This
might be likened to our having a “hazy” or inaccurate memory of some scene, name or sequence of events in which the whole
may be pieced together after some effort of recall.
The common paradigm here may be described as follows. There is some underlying collection of stored data which is
ordered and interrelated in some way; that is, the data constitute a stored pattern or memory. In the human recollection
examples above, it was the cluster of items associated with the celebrity or the place we visited. In the case of character
recognition, it was the parts (pixels) of some letter whose arrangement was determined by a stereotypical version of that
letter. When part of the pattern of data is presented in the form of a sensory cue, the rest of the pattern (memory) is recalled or
associated with it. Alternatively, we may be offered an imperfect version of the stored memory that has to be associated with
the true, uncorrupted pattern. Notice that it doesn’t matter which part of the pattern is used as the cue; the whole pattern is always

Conventional computers (von Neumann machines) can perform this function in a very limited way using software usually
referred to as a database. Here, the “sensory cue” is called the key or index term to be searched on. For example, a library
catalogue is a database that stores the authors, titles, classmarks and data on publication of books and journals. Typically we
may search on any one of these discrete items for a catalogue entry by typing the complete item after selecting the correct
option from a menu. Suppose now we have only the fragment “ion, Mar” from the encoded record “Vision, Marr D.” of the
book Vision by D.Marr. There is no way that the database can use this fragment of information even to start searching. We
don’t know if it pertains to the author or the title, and, even if we did, we might get titles or authors that start with “ion”. The
input to a conventional database has to be very specific and complete if it is to work.

Figure 7.1 Associative recall with binarized letter images.

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