AI Atlas: Seeing the Bigger Picture with Capsule Networks

AI breakthroughs, concepts, and techniques that are tangibly valuable, specific, and actionable. Written by Glasswing Founder and Managing Partner, Rudina Seseri

One of the most revolutionary areas of AI is the field of computer vision, where machines learn to recognize objects from digital images. Innovations in computer vision have led to technologies that are used every day, from the face recognition on your phone to e-commerce product analyses, security activities, and even healthcare diagnoses.

One such innovation, known as Capsule Networks, made a substantial impact when they were first introduced by Google and the University of Toronto researcher Geoffrey Hinton in 2017. Capsule Networks are designed to process individual data characteristics, known as features, and then combine those interpretations into a comprehensive understanding of an input. Additionally, recent research around Capsule Networks has revealed their power when combined with other machine learning architectures for different use cases. In today’s AI Atlas, I will dive into what makes Capsule Networks special and how they have been applied in larger AI systems.

🗺️ What are Capsule Networks?

Capsule Networks are a development in computer vision designed to enhance how machines understand images. Traditional neural networks such as Convolutional Neural Networks (CNNs), which have powered much of the AI revolution, can recognize patterns within data but often struggle with understanding the hierarchical relationships between those features. For example, CNNs are typically not capable of recognizing objects in images that have been rotated, as they search for patterns that are now flipped vertically. Capsule Networks aim to overcome these limitations by mimicking the way human brains perceive and interpret visual information.

Capsule Networks use small groups of digital neurons, called “capsules,” to identify specific features of an object such as shape, orientation, and color. These capsules then communicate with one another to understand the relationships between these features, akin to a group of scientists sharing their findings with each other, providing a more holistic and accurate interpretation of the data.

Capsule Networks can also be combined with other types of neural networks as an ensemble to leverage its strengths with those of other architectures. One example of a hybrid model is the CNN-CapsNet, wherein a CNN is used to extract basic features from initial data layers, such as edges and simple shapes. These features are then passed to a Capsule Network, which takes over the task of interpreting them to form a coherent representation of the entire object. Another is the Capsule Transformer, which combines the self-attention mechanism of Transformers with the hierarchical structure of Capsule Networks to capture not only the content of a conversation but also its context, as if getting to know a group of individuals before listening to them speak on the phone.

🤔 What is the significance of Capsule Networks and what are their limitations?

Capsule Networks are a significant advancement in AI due to their enhanced interpretative abilities, robustness, and versatility. Their potential can be further unlocked by integrating them with other neural network architectures, creating hybrid models that leverage the best of both worlds. This integration can lead to more powerful, accurate, and scalable AI systems, paving the way for advanced applications across a wide range of industries.

  • Improved accuracy: Capsule Networks offer a precise understanding of objects within an image. Unlike traditional neural networks that might misinterpret parts of an object when it’s viewed from different angles or partially blocked, Capsule Networks can maintain recognition regardless of positioning.
  • Robustness: Traditional neural networks such as CNNs or Feedforward Networks can be easily fooled by small changes in input data, leading to incorrect classifications. Capsule Networks are designed to be more resilient to such distortions, ensuring more reliable outputs.
  • Versatility: Capsule Networks can be leveraged in ensemble with other types of neural networks, retaining their sophisticated interpretation while unlocking new capabilities. Examples of these are CNN-CapsNet or Graph Capsule Neural Networks, which are hybrids with CNNs and GNNs respectively.

Nevertheless, Capsule Networks are still a relatively new concept and face several barriers to wider industry adoption. Researchers are actively developing strategies for overcoming limitations including:

  • Resource costs: Capsule Networks require significantly more computational power than traditional neural networks. This is due to the intricate processing involved in maintaining the relationships between data features, the specific characteristics used to make inferences.
  • Scalability issues: As the size and complexity of the input data increase, the computational demands of Capsule Networks grow exponentially. This can make them challenging to implement for large-scale applications.
  • Lack of standardization: Unlike models such as CNNs, which have well-established architectures and popular frameworks, Capsule Networks are still in the early stages of development and there is little consensus on the best practices for their design and training.

🛠️ Applications of Capsule Networks

Capsule Networks are best suited for tasks that require a nuanced understanding of spatial relationships and hierarchies in data, such as:

  • Autonomous systems and robotics: Capsule Networks can be used to add a visual component and enable robotic components to understand their surroundings. Leveraging capsule networks with a transformer such as RT-2, for example, could unlock new possibilities in natural language interaction with hardware.
  • Retail and e-commerce: For businesses in the retail sector, Capsule Networks can improve image-based search functionalities by accurately identifying products from images, even if the pictures are taken from different angles or under different lighting conditions.
  • Security: Capsule Networks can be employed in security systems to better recognize faces and objects in camera footage, even under conditions such as poor lighting or obstructions.

Stay up-to-date on the latest AI news by subscribing to Rudina’s AI Atlas.