Virtualization Technology News and Information
Synthetic data newbie? Here's what you need to know

Written by Yashar Behzadi, CEO, Neuromation

It is projected that there will be 45 billion connected cameras in the world by 2022. Coupled with breakthroughs in AI computer vision, there is a tremendous opportunity to build a broad set of high-value applications surrounding this new technology. Among other use cases, AI computer vision will power deeper perception for autonomous vehicles, enable more capable industrial robots, drive more accurate medical imaging diagnostics, and provide higher levels of security in private and public settings.

However, modern computer vision AI algorithms, such as convolutional neural networks, require vast amounts of labeled data to train the models. This data labeling is typically performed by humans and is inherently limited. For example, a typical frame captured by an autonomous vehicles needs to be meticulously labeled to identify objects (cars, buildings, etc), people, and environmental factors. The costs for this work can range from $0.50 to $1 per picture frame and take a single individual 30+ minutes to label all associated pixels. In addition to being expensive, time consuming and error prone, many key attributes such as the distance to an object, 3D bounding boxes, and object velocity cannot be labeled at all by humans. Looking ahead, as the systems we build with AI become more sophisticated, more complex labels like driver or pedestrian intent and identification of partially obstructed objects will be increasingly important to build safe and high performing systems. It is clear that the current paradigm of human-in-the-loop labeling is limiting the advancement of computer vision AI.

To facilitate the creation of more capable AI computer vision systems, our company is focused on pioneering the use of Synthetic Data, or digitally created data that mimics real data. In the context of computer vision, this data takes the form of relevant video, 3D environments or images used for training deep learning models. We believe that Synthetic Data will become an essential component of the future technology stack for AI computer vision. By bringing together techniques from the movie and gaming industries such as simulation, computer generated imagery (CGI) with the emerging technology of generative neural networks, with such techniques as generative adversarial networks (GANs) and variational autoencoders (VAE's), it is now possible to create vast, perfectly-labeled, realistic datasets to extend and enrich traditional datasets. The incremental cost of each procedurally generated image is nearly zero, providing previously unheard of scalability; and since the data is digitally created, all of its attributes are known to pixel-perfect precision. Key labels such as depth, 3D position and partially obstructed objects are provided by design.

We are currently working with leading technology companies to enable them to build better models with Synthetic Data. Below are a few examples of use cases for which we see an almost ubiquitous need among companies actively implementing AI development and transformation programs:

  1. Rapid prototyping: As companies build new AI products and solutions, it is often important to do trade-off studies related to the overall system design and model performance. For example, we see many retailers considering the use of camera systems for inventory management, customer analytics and customer/product interactions or handset manufacturers contemplating new camera configurations and imaging modalities to improve facial verification systems. By using Synthetic Data, AI developers can easily understand the relative value of the number, type and location of cameras without having to go through a prolonged process of building representative hardware, acquiring data under various configurations, labeling the images and building various models. Another key area for rapid prototyping is in robotics where it is impractical to build hardware variants and undergo long training sessions to mimic real-world scenarios. The use of Synthetic Data together with reinforcement learning techniques can cut months off development cycles and enable more capable robots.
  2. Reduction of bias: Often companies lack sufficiently diverse data to build unbiased algorithms. This is especially problematic when it comes to face verification applications in which systems underperform or adversely target certain demographics. To help with this issue, we are working with a major technology company to develop a representative set of synthetic identities. In addition, to creating a balanced dataset representative of all demographics, Synthetic Data approaches can create a wide range of images for a particular identity capturing variability associated with view point, facial hair, make-up, accessories (glasses, hats, etc) and environment (indoor, outdoor, etc). The use of Synthetic Data also eliminates the privacy concerns inherent with using real-world captured face data. In addition to solving key technical issues, Synthetic Data may in this way also address key ethical issues with how models are built.
  3. Greater model robustness: Synthetic Data can be highly parameterized, allowing precise control over aspects like object position, image background, camera position and viewpoint and light source position and intensity. The combinatorics of procedural generation enables near infinite variability of images, leading to more robust and generalizable models.
  4. Understanding complex environments: AI computer vision systems are beginning to excel at characterizing more complex real-world scenarios, like the identification of potential security situations, characterizing customer and product interactions, or understanding the complex dynamics of crosswalks in a crowded urban environment. Synthetic Data using agent-based simulations is extremely promising as interactions and intent can be more precisely labeled and understood.

However, although Synthetic Data is an extremely promising enabling technology for AI, key technical challenges remain for its widespread adoption. The core issue of synthetic data lies in the difficulty of effectively matching the generated data to real data. Without proper matching, the introduction of synthetic data can lead to poor model performance and introduce bias. To solve this issue, we have developed core intellectual property (IP) related to domain adaptation/randomization and adaptive generation. The latter is a particularly interesting challenge and requires a ‘closed-loop' view of data generation and model performance. To that end, we have developed a fully integrated model development platform that leverages insight from real data assets and model performance to inform the generation of new data. We find that this intimate link between data and model is essential to ensure driving the key end-points, which are ultimately related to model performance.

We are excited about the future of AI computer vision and the key role Synthetic Data and closed-loop model development will play to unblock the development of next generation models.


About the Author

yashar behazdi 

Yashar Behzadi, CEO, Neuromation

Yashar is an experienced entrepreneur who has built transformative businesses in the AI, medical technology, and IoT space. He comes to Neuromation after spending the last 12 years in Silicon Valley building and scaling data-centric technology companies. His work at Proteus Digital Health was recognized by Wired as one of the top 10 technological breakthroughs of 2008 and as a Technology Pioneer by the World Economic Forum. He has been recognized in Wired, Entrepreneur, WSJ, CNET, and numerous other leading tech journals for his contributions to the industry. With 30 patents and patents-pending and a PhD in Bioengineering from UCSD, he is a proven technologist.

Published Wednesday, April 03, 2019 7:34 AM by David Marshall
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