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Understanding Masked Image Modeling via Learning Occlusion Invariant Feature

Xiangwen Kong · Xiangyu Zhang

West Building Exhibit Halls ABC 202
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Recently, Masked Image Modeling (MIM) achieves great success in self-supervised visual recognition. However, as a reconstruction-based framework, it is still an open question to understand how MIM works, since MIM appears very different from previous well-studied siamese approaches such as contrastive learning. In this paper, we propose a new viewpoint: MIM implicitly learns occlusion-invariant features, which is analogous to other siamese methods while the latter learns other invariance. By relaxing MIM formulation into an equivalent siamese form, MIM methods can be interpreted in a unified framework with conventional methods, among which only a) data transformations, i.e. what invariance to learn, and b) similarity measurements are different. Furthermore, taking MAE (He et al., 2021) as a representative example of MIM, we empirically find the success of MIM models relates a little to the choice of similarity functions, but the learned occlusion invariant feature introduced by masked image -- it turns out to be a favored initialization for vision transformers, even though the learned feature could be less semantic. We hope our findings could inspire researchers to develop more powerful self-supervised methods in computer vision community.

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