Cognitive programs: software for attention's executive

Front Psychol. 2014 Nov 25;5:1260. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2014.01260. eCollection 2014.


What are the computational tasks that an executive controller for visual attention must solve? This question is posed in the context of the Selective Tuning model of attention. The range of required computations go beyond top-down bias signals or region-of-interest determinations, and must deal with overt and covert fixations, process timing and synchronization, information routing, memory, matching control to task, spatial localization, priming, and coordination of bottom-up with top-down information. During task execution, results must be monitored to ensure the expected results. This description includes the kinds of elements that are common in the control of any kind of complex machine or system. We seek a mechanistic integration of the above, in other words, algorithms that accomplish control. Such algorithms operate on representations, transforming a representation of one kind into another, which then forms the input to yet another algorithm. Cognitive Programs (CPs) are hypothesized to capture exactly such representational transformations via stepwise sequences of operations. CPs, an updated and modernized offspring of Ullman's Visual Routines, impose an algorithmic structure to the set of attentional functions and play a role in the overall shaping of attentional modulation of the visual system so that it provides its best performance. This requires that we consider the visual system as a dynamic, yet general-purpose processor tuned to the task and input of the moment. This differs dramatically from the almost universal cognitive and computational views, which regard vision as a passively observing module to which simple questions about percepts can be posed, regardless of task. Differing from Visual Routines, CPs explicitly involve the critical elements of Visual Task Executive (vTE), Visual Attention Executive (vAE), and Visual Working Memory (vWM). Cognitive Programs provide the software that directs the actions of the Selective Tuning model of visual attention.

Keywords: executive; selective tuning; visual attention; visual routines; working memory.