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Latent space visualization, characterization, and generation of diverse vocal communication signals

By Tim Sainburg, Marvin Thielk, Timothy Quinlan Gentner

Posted 11 Dec 2019
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/870311

Animals produce vocalizations that range in complexity from a single repeated call to hundreds of unique vocal elements patterned in sequences unfolding over hours. Characterizing complex vocalizations can require considerable effort and a deep intuition about each species’ vocal behavior. Even with a great deal of experience, human characterizations of animal communication can be affected by human perceptual biases. We present here a set of computational methods that center around projecting animal vocalizations into low dimensional latent representational spaces that are directly learned from data. We apply these methods to diverse datasets from over 20 species, including humans, bats, songbirds, mice, cetaceans, and nonhuman primates, enabling high-powered comparative analyses of unbiased acoustic features in the communicative repertoires across species. Latent projections uncover complex features of data in visually intuitive and quantifiable ways. We introduce methods for analyzing vocalizations as both discrete sequences and as continuous latent variables. Each method can be used to disentangle complex spectro-temporal structure and observe long-timescale organization in communication. Finally, we show how systematic sampling from latent representational spaces of vocalizations enables comprehensive investigations of perceptual and neural representations of complex and ecologically relevant acoustic feature spaces.

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