An ideal observer is a hypothetical device that performs optimally in a perceptual task given the available information. The theory of ideal observers has proven to be a powerful and useful tool in vision research, which has been applied to a wide range of problems. Here I first summarize the basic concepts and logic of ideal observer analysis and then briefly describe applications in a number of different areas, including pattern detection, discrimination and estimation, perceptual grouping, shape, depth and motion perception and visual attention, with an emphasis on recent applications. Given recent advances in mathematical statistics, in computational power, and in techniques for measuring behavioral performance, neural activity and natural scene statistics, it seems certain that ideal observer theory will play an ever increasing role in basic and applied areas of vision science.
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