Patches Are All You Need?

Published: 16 Mar 2023, Last Modified: 02 Apr 2024Accepted by TMLREveryoneRevisionsBibTeX
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Abstract: Although convolutional neural networks have been the dominant architecture for computer vision for many years, Vision Transformers (ViTs) have recently shown promise as an alternative. Subsequently, many new models have been proposed which replace the self-attention layer within the ViT architecture with novel operations (such as MLPs), all of which have also been relatively performant. We note that these architectures all share a common component--the patch embedding layer--which enables the use of a simple isotropic template with alternating steps of channel- and spatial-dimension mixing. This raises a question: is the success of ViT-style models due to novel, highly-expressive operations like self-attention, or is it at least in part due to using patches? In this paper, we present some evidence for the latter: specifically, we propose the ConvMixer, an extremely simple and parameter-efficient fully-convolutional model in which we replace the self-attention and MLP layers within the ViT with less-expressive depthwise and pointwise convolutional layers, respectively. Despite its unusual simplicity, ConvMixer outperforms the ViT, MLP-Mixer, and their variants for similar data set sizes and parameter counts, in addition to outperforming classical vision models like ResNet. We argue that this contributes to the evidence that patches are sufficient for designing simple and effective vision models. Our code is available at
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Submission Length: Regular submission (no more than 12 pages of main content)
Assigned Action Editor: ~David_Ha1
License: Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)
Submission Number: 744