Proceedings of the Neural Information Processing Systems

**This paper was accepted as an oral presentation at NeurIPS 2023*

**Motivation**

Object-centric representation learning (OCRL) [1, 2] aims to learn a representation where the information about different objects from a scene is encoded separately. This enables reasoning from low-level perceptual data like images, videos, etc., by learning structured representations that have the potential to improve the robustness and systematic generalization of vision systems. While several segmentation approaches utilize supervision, there is a growing interest in unsupervised learning of object-centric representations that utilize a vast amount of unlabeled image data.

A prominent approach to achieve this is to train an encoder and decoder to reconstruct the images. For example, Slot Attention [2] learns a set of slots (representations) where each slot is expected to reconstruct a specific object, as shown in the image above. These approaches have shown impressive results empirically, but the exact reason why they disentangle objects without supervision needs to be better understood. In this work, we offer a theoretical explanation for this phenomenon by proving disentanglement and extrapolation guarantees of additive decoders, a simple architecture that is similar to object-centric decoders.**Provable Disentanglement and Extrapolation with Additive Decoders**

The model architecture consists of an encoder that outputs a compressed latent representation of the image, which is then partitioned into blocks. These latent blocks are then transformed back into the image space via a block-specific decoder. The resulting block-specific images are added together to obtain the final output image, which is used to compute the reconstruction loss for training. Additive decoders are well-suited for images that can be decomposed into a sum of images corresponding to different objects. Note that additive decoders are not expressive enough to model occlusion, i.e. when different objects overlap.
**Disentanglement**

**Cartesian-Product Extrapolation**

### Experiments

For empirical validation of the disentanglement and extrapolation properties of additive decoders, we experiment with the moving circles dataset, as shown in Figure 6. Each image consists of two circles that are allowed to move only along the y-axis, hence we train an additive decoder model with the latent dimension of one per block. Further, we remove the images from the training dataset in which both circles appear in the upper half of the image, which results in the L-shape training support. We also compare with the baseline of the non-additive decoder, which is based on the standard auto-encoder architecture.We provide a qualitative visualization of the performance of both the additive and the non-additive decoder approach in Figure 7. For more details regarding the quantitative results and other setups see the paper.

In the left column of Figure 7, we plot the latent representations learned by the encoder across the training set and in the right column we show the corresponding generated images. The shaded region in the latent space plot denotes the examples seen during training. For the additive decoder, we find that changing the predicted latent 1 results only in the change of the blue circle, and analogously for the latent 2. Hence, each predicted latent corresponds to only a unique object, and we have disentanglement. Note that this results in an inverted L-shaped latent support over the training examples, as the order in which the predicted latents correspond to the objects can be different from the true order. However, we do not have disentanglement in the non-additive decoder, as changing one of the predicted latent leads to a change in both circles. Furthermore, the additive decoder approach can extrapolate beyond the training support and generate novel images where both the circles have a high y-coordinate, while the non-additive decoder approach is unable to do so.Finally, we also visualize the block-specific decoder reconstructions of images generated by the additive decoder in the figure below. We indeed find that each block-specific decoder generates a unique object, hence the latent representations learned by the model are disentangled.

### Conclusion

Our work helps obtain insights into why object-centric methods work and how they can be used to generate novel compositions of objects. While the expressivity of additive decoders is limited, this is only a first step. Future work involves extending our results for provable latent identification & extrapolation for the case of masked addition such that the case with object occlusion is handled. A concurrent work [3] establishes provable compositionality/extrapolation for a more general class of functions that can handle masked addition, however, they assume access to the true latent variables and their analysis does not show how to achieve provable disentanglement along with compositionality for the proposed class of mixing functions. Hence, it is still an important open problem to prove such results for a more general class of mixing functions than additive decoders.

Further, our work provides guarantees only for the decoder extrapolation to the cartesian product extension of the training support, but not for the extrapolation of the encoder. An important future step would be to extend our analysis and method for guarantees on encoder extrapolation as well! A recent work [4] proposes encoder consistency loss achieving the same, and it would be interesting to develop further on this problem!

Finally, we are very excited to extend this strategy to understand creativity in deep generative models! Some recent works [5, 6] have made assumptions similar to additive decoders for the score functions of the data distribution and shown how this can be used for compositionality with diffusion models. Hence, this is an interesting and impactful direction to prove similar guarantees for disentanglement and extrapolation with diffusion models.

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