Hard-Attention for Scalable Image Classification

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 34 (NeurIPS 2021)

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Athanasios Papadopoulos, Pawel Korus, Nasir Memon


Can we leverage high-resolution information without the unsustainable quadratic complexity to input scale? We propose Traversal Network (TNet), a novel multi-scale hard-attention architecture, which traverses image scale-space in a top-down fashion, visiting only the most informative image regions along the way. TNet offers an adjustable trade-off between accuracy and complexity, by changing the number of attended image locations. We compare our model against hard-attention baselines on ImageNet, achieving higher accuracy with less resources (FLOPs, processing time and memory). We further test our model on fMoW dataset, where we process satellite images of size up to $896 \times 896$ px, getting up to $2.5$x faster processing compared to baselines operating on the same resolution, while achieving higher accuracy as well. TNet is modular, meaning that most classification models could be adopted as its backbone for feature extraction, making the reported performance gains orthogonal to benefits offered by existing optimized deep models. Finally, hard-attention guarantees a degree of interpretability to our model's predictions, without any extra cost beyond inference.