Research ArticleNEUROSCIENCE

Visual number sense in untrained deep neural networks

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Science Advances  01 Jan 2021:
Vol. 7, no. 1, eabd6127
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abd6127

Abstract

Number sense, the ability to estimate numerosity, is observed in naïve animals, but how this cognitive function emerges in the brain remains unclear. Here, using an artificial deep neural network that models the ventral visual stream of the brain, we show that number-selective neurons can arise spontaneously, even in the complete absence of learning. We also show that the responses of these neurons can induce the abstract number sense, the ability to discriminate numerosity independent of low-level visual cues. We found number tuning in a randomly initialized network originating from a combination of monotonically decreasing and increasing neuronal activities, which emerges spontaneously from the statistical properties of bottom-up projections. We confirmed that the responses of these number-selective neurons show the single- and multineuron characteristics observed in the brain and enable the network to perform number comparison tasks. These findings provide insight into the origin of innate cognitive functions.

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