Towards robust vision by multi-task learning on monkey visual cortex

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

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Shahd Safarani, Arne Nix, Konstantin Willeke, Santiago Cadena, Kelli Restivo, George Denfield, Andreas Tolias, Fabian Sinz


Deep neural networks set the state-of-the-art across many tasks in computer vision, but their generalization ability to simple image distortions is surprisingly fragile. In contrast, the mammalian visual system is robust to a wide range of perturbations. Recent work suggests that this generalization ability can be explained by useful inductive biases encoded in the representations of visual stimuli throughout the visual cortex. Here, we successfully leveraged these inductive biases with a multi-task learning approach: we jointly trained a deep network to perform image classification and to predict neural activity in macaque primary visual cortex (V1) in response to the same natural stimuli. We measured the out-of-distribution generalization abilities of our resulting network by testing its robustness to common image distortions. We found that co-training on monkey V1 data indeed leads to increased robustness despite the absence of those distortions during training. Additionally, we showed that our network's robustness is often very close to that of an Oracle network where parts of the architecture are directly trained on noisy images. Our results also demonstrated that the network's representations become more brain-like as their robustness improves. Using a novel constrained reconstruction analysis, we investigated what makes our brain-regularized network more robust. We found that our monkey co-trained network is more sensitive to content than noise when compared to a Baseline network that we trained for image classification alone. Using DeepGaze-predicted saliency maps for ImageNet images, we found that the monkey co-trained network tends to be more sensitive to salient regions in a scene, reminiscent of existing theories on the role of V1 in the detection of object borders and bottom-up saliency. Overall, our work expands the promising research avenue of transferring inductive biases from biological to artificial neural networks on the representational level, and provides a novel analysis of the effects of our transfer.