Language Quantized AutoEncoders: Towards Unsupervised Text-Image Alignment

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 36 (NeurIPS 2023) Main Conference Track

Bibtex Paper Supplemental


Hao Liu, Wilson Yan, Pieter Abbeel


Recent progress in scaling up large language models has shown impressive capabilities in performing few-shot learning across a wide range of natural language tasks. However, a key limitation is that these language models fundamentally lack grounding to visual perception - a crucial attribute needed to extend to real world tasks such as in visual-question answering and robotics. While prior works have largely connected image to text through pretraining or fine-tuning, learning such alignments are generally costly due to a combination of curating massive datasets and large computational burdens. In order to resolve these limitations, we propose a simple yet effective approach called Language-Quantized AutoEncoder (LQAE), a modification of VQ-VAE that learns to align text-image data in an unsupervised manner by leveraging pretrained language model denoisers (e.g., BERT). Our main idea is to encode images as sequences of text tokens by directly quantizing image embeddings using a pretrained language codebook. We then feed a masked version of the quantized embeddings into a BERT to reconstruct the original input. By doing so, LQAE learns to represent similar images with similar clusters of text tokens, thereby aligning these two modalities without the use of aligned text-image pairs. We show LQAE learns text-aligned image tokens that enable few-shot multi-modal learning with large language models, outperforming baseline methods in tasks such as image classification and VQA while requiring as few as 1-10 image-text pairs.