Neural Foundations of Mental Simulation: Future Prediction of Latent Representations on Dynamic Scenes

Aran Nayebi, Rishi Rajalingham, Mehrdad Jazayeri, Guangyu Robert Yang

Humans and animals have a rich and flexible understanding of the physical world, which enables them to infer the underlying dynamical trajectories of objects and events, plausible future states, and use that to plan and anticipate the consequences of actions. However, the neural mechanisms underlying these computations are unclear. We combine a goal-driven modeling approach with dense neurophysiological data and high-throughput human behavioral readouts to directly impinge on this question. Specifically, we construct and evaluate several classes of sensory-cognitive networks to predict the future state of rich, ethologically-relevant environments, ranging from self-supervised end-to-end models with pixel-wise or object-centric objectives, to models that future predict in the latent space of purely static image-based or dynamic video-based pretrained foundation models. We find strong differentiation across these model classes in their ability to predict neural and behavioral data both within and across diverse environments. In particular, we find that neural responses are currently best predicted by models trained to predict the future state of their environment in the latent space of pretrained foundation models optimized for dynamic scenes in a self-supervised manner. Notably, models that future predict in the latent space of video foundation models that are optimized to support a diverse range of sensorimotor tasks, reasonably match both human behavioral error patterns and neural dynamics across all environmental scenarios that we were able to test. Overall, these findings suggest that the neural mechanisms and behaviors of primate mental simulation are thus far most consistent with being optimized to future predict on dynamic, reusable visual representations that are useful for embodied AI more generally.

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