An Image is Worth 16x16 Words: Transformers for Image Recognition at Scale

While the Transformer architecture has become the de-facto standard for natural language processing tasks, its applications to computer vision remain limited. In vision, attention is either applied in conjunction with convolutional networks, or used to replace certain components of convolutional networks while keeping their overall structure in place. We show that this reliance on CNNs is not necessary and a pure transformer applied directly to sequences of image patches can perform very well on image classification tasks. When pre-trained on large amounts of data and transferred to multiple mid-sized or small image recognition benchmarks (ImageNet, CIFAR-100, VTAB, etc.), Vision Transformer (ViT) attains excellent results compared to state-of-the-art convolutional networks while requiring substantially fewer computational resources to train.

Inspired by the Transformer scaling successes in NLP, we experiment with applying a standard Transformer directly to images, with the fewest possible modifications. To do so, we split an image into patches and provide the sequence of linear embeddings of these patches as an input to a Transformer. Image patches are treated the same way as tokens (words) in an NLP application. We train the model on image classification in supervised fashion.

When trained on mid-sized datasets such as ImageNet without strong regularization, these models yield modest accuracies of a few percentage points below ResNets of comparable size. This seemingly discouraging outcome may be expected: Transformers lack some of the inductive biases inherent to CNNs, such as translation equivariance and locality, and therefore do not generalize well when trained on insufficient amounts of data. However, the picture changes if the models are trained on larger datasets (14M-300M images).

We find that large scale training trumps inductive bias. Our Vision Transformer (ViT) attains excellent results when pre-trained at sufficient scale and transferred to tasks with fewer datapoints. When pre-trained on the public ImageNet-21k dataset or the in-house JFT-300M dataset, ViT approaches or beats state of the art on multiple image recognition benchmarks. In particular, the best model reaches the accuracy of 88.55% on ImageNet, 90.72% on ImageNet-ReaL, 94.55% on CIFAR-100, and 77.63% on the VTAB suite of 19 tasks.

Naive application of self-attention to images would require that each pixel attends to every other pixel. With quadratic cost in the number of pixels, this does not scale to realistic input sizes. Thus, to apply Transformers in the context of image processing, several approximations have been tried in the past. Parmar et al. (2018) applied the self-attention only in local neighborhoods for each query pixel instead of globally. Such local multi-head dot-product self attention blocks can completely replace convolutions (Hu et al., 2019; Ramachandran et al., 2019; Zhao et al., 2020). In a different line of work, Sparse Transformers (Child et al., 2019) employ scalable approximations to global selfattention in order to be applicable to images. An alternative way to scale attention is to apply it in blocks of varying sizes (Weissenborn et al., 2019), in the extreme case only along individual axes (Ho et al., 2019; Wang et al., 2020a). Many of these specialized attention architectures demonstrate promising results on computer vision tasks, but require complex engineering to be implemented efficiently on hardware accelerators.

The residual skip-connection is additive.

Typically, we pre-train ViT on large datasets, and fine-tune to (smaller) downstream tasks. For this, we remove the pre-trained prediction head and attach a zero-initialized D × K feedforward layer, where K is the number of downstream classes. It is often beneficial to fine-tune at higher resolution than pre-training (Touvron et al., 2019; Kolesnikov et al., 2020). When feeding images of higher resolution, we keep the patch size the same, which results in a larger effective sequence length. The Vision Transformer can handle arbitrary sequence lengths (up to memory constraints), however, the pre-trained position embeddings may no longer be meaningful. We therefore perform 2D interpolation of the pre-trained position embeddings, according to their location in the original image. Note that this resolution adjustment and patch extraction are the only points at which an inductive bias about the 2D structure of the images is manually injected into the Vision Transformer.

When considering the computational cost of pre-training the model, ViT performs very favourably, attaining state of the art on most recognition benchmarks at a lower pre-training cost.

Vision Transformers overfit more than ResNets with comparable computational cost on smaller datasets. For example, ViT-B/32 is slightly faster than ResNet50; it performs much worse on the 9M subset, but better on 90M+ subsets. The same is true for ResNet152x2 and ViT-L/16. This result reinforces the intuition that the convolutional inductive bias is useful for smaller datasets, but for larger ones, learning the relevant patterns directly from data is sufficient, even beneficial. The result that hybrid models only outperform ViT for smaller datasets is somewhat surprising, since one might expect convolutional local feature processing to assist ViT at any size.

In the appendices, there’s a nice summary of Attention (we need to read AiayN!).

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09 Sep 2021 - importance: 7