How hard are computer vision datasets? Calibrating dataset difficulty to viewing time

David Mayo · Jesse Cummings · Xinyu Lin · Dan Gutfreund · Boris Katz · Andrei Barbu

Great Hall & Hall B1+B2 (level 1) #903
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Thu 14 Dec 3 p.m. PST — 5 p.m. PST


Humans outperform object recognizers despite the fact that models perform well on current datasets, including those explicitly designed to challenge machines with debiased images or distribution shift. This problem persists, in part, because we have no guidance on the absolute difficulty of an image or dataset making it hard to objectively assess progress toward human-level performance, to cover the range of human abilities, and to increase the challenge posed by a dataset. We develop a dataset difficulty metric MVT, Minimum Viewing Time, that addresses these three problems. Subjects view an image that flashes on screen and then classify the object in the image. Images that require brief flashes to recognize are easy, those which require seconds of viewing are hard. We compute the ImageNet and ObjectNet image difficulty distribution, which we find significantly undersamples hard images. Nearly 90% of current benchmark performance is derived from images that are easy for humans. Rather than hoping that we will make harder datasets, we can for the first time objectively guide dataset difficulty during development. We can also subset recognition performance as a function of difficulty: model performance drops precipitously while human performance remains stable. Difficulty provides a new lens through which to view model performance, one which uncovers new scaling laws: vision-language models stand out as being the most robust and human-like while all other techniques scale poorly. We release tools to automatically compute MVT, along with image sets which are tagged by difficulty. Objective image difficulty has practical applications – one can measure how hard a test set is before deploying a real-world system – and scientific applications such as discovering the neural correlates of image difficulty and enabling new object recognition techniques that eliminate the benchmark-vs- real-world performance gap.

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