How Well Do Unsupervised Learning Algorithms Model Human Real-time and Life-long Learning?

Chengxu Zhuang, Violet Xiang, Yoon Bai, Xiaoxuan Jia, Nicholas Turk-Browne, Kenneth Norman, James J. DiCarlo, Daniel L.K. Yamins

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution

5 Scopus citations


Humans learn from visual inputs at multiple timescales, both rapidly and flexibly acquiring visual knowledge over short periods, and robustly accumulating online learning progress over longer periods. Modeling these powerful learning capabilities is an important problem for computational visual cognitive science, and models that could replicate them would be of substantial utility in real-world computer vision settings. In this work, we establish benchmarks for both real-time and life-long continual visual learning. Our real-time learning benchmark measures a model's ability to match the rapid visual behavior changes of real humans over the course of minutes and hours, given a stream of visual inputs. Our life-long learning benchmark evaluates the performance of models in a purely online learning curriculum obtained directly from child visual experience over the course of years of development. We evaluate a spectrum of recent deep self-supervised visual learning algorithms on both benchmarks, finding that none of them perfectly match human performance, though some algorithms perform substantially better than others. Interestingly, algorithms embodying recent trends in self-supervised learning - including BYOL, SwAV and MAE - are substantially worse on our benchmarks than an earlier generation of self-supervised algorithms such as SimCLR and MoCo-v2. We present analysis indicating that the failure of these newer algorithms is primarily due to their inability to handle the kind of sparse low-diversity datastreams that naturally arise in the real world, and that actively leveraging memory through negative sampling - a mechanism eschewed by these newer algorithms - appears useful for facilitating learning in such low-diversity environments. We also illustrate a complementarity between the short and long timescales in the two benchmarks, showing how requiring a single learning algorithm to be locally context-sensitive enough to match real-time learning changes while stable enough to avoid catastrophic forgetting over the long term induces a trade-off that human-like algorithms may have to straddle. Taken together, our benchmarks establish a quantitative way to directly compare learning between neural networks models and human learners, show how choices in the mechanism by which such algorithms handle sample comparison and memory strongly impact their ability to match human learning abilities, and expose an open problem space for identifying more flexible and robust visual self-supervision algorithms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationAdvances in Neural Information Processing Systems 35 - 36th Conference on Neural Information Processing Systems, NeurIPS 2022
EditorsS. Koyejo, S. Mohamed, A. Agarwal, D. Belgrave, K. Cho, A. Oh
PublisherNeural information processing systems foundation
ISBN (Electronic)9781713871088
StatePublished - 2022
Event36th Conference on Neural Information Processing Systems, NeurIPS 2022 - New Orleans, United States
Duration: Nov 28 2022Dec 9 2022

Publication series

NameAdvances in Neural Information Processing Systems
ISSN (Print)1049-5258


Conference36th Conference on Neural Information Processing Systems, NeurIPS 2022
Country/TerritoryUnited States
CityNew Orleans

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Computer Networks and Communications
  • Information Systems
  • Signal Processing


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