Training data-efficient image transformers & distillation through attention

International Conference on Machine Learning (ICML)


Recently, neural networks purely based on attention were shown to address image understanding tasks such as image classification. These high-performing vision transformers are pre-trained with hundreds of millions of images using a large infrastructure, thereby limiting their adoption.

In this work, we produce competitive convolution-free transformers trained on ImageNet only using a single computer in less than 3 days. Our reference vision transformer (86M parameters) achieves top-1 accuracy of 83.1% (single-crop) on ImageNet with no external data.

We also introduce a teacher-student strategy specific to transformers. It relies on a distillation token ensuring that the student learns from the teacher through attention, typically from a convnet teacher. The learned transformers are competitive (85.2% top-1 acc.) with the state of the art on ImageNet, and similarly when transferred to other tasks. We will share our code and models.

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