Spatially Invariant Unsupervised Object Detection with Convolutional Neural Networks

AAAI Conference on Artificial Intelligence (AAAI)

By: Eric Crawford, Joelle Pineau


There are many reasons to expect an ability to reason in terms of objects to be a crucial skill for any generally intelligent agent. Indeed, recent machine learning literature is replete with examples of the benefits of object-like representations: generalization, transfer to new tasks, and interpretability, among others. However, in order to reason in terms of objects, agents need a way of discovering and detecting objects in the visual world – a task which we call unsupervised object detection. This task has received significantly less attention in the literature than its supervised counterpart, especially in the case of large images containing many objects. In the current work, we develop a neural network architecture that effectively addresses this large-image, many-object setting. In particular, we combine ideas from Attend, Infer, Repeat (AIR), which performs unsupervised object detection but does not scale well, with recent developments in supervised object detection. We replace AIR’s core recurrent network with a convolutional (and thus spatially invariant) network, and make use of an object-specification scheme that describes the location of objects with respect to local grid cells rather than the image as a whole. Through a series of experiments, we demonstrate a number of features of our architecture: that, unlike AIR, it is able to discover and detect objects in large, many-object scenes; that it has a significant ability to generalize to images that are larger and contain more objects than images encountered during training; and that it is able to discover and detect objects with enough accuracy to facilitate non-trivial downstream processing.