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How Have Foundation Models Redefined Computer Vision Using AI?

April 30, 2024
8 mins
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Foundation models have markedly advanced computer vision, a field that has transitioned from simple pattern recognition to sophisticated systems capable of complex visual analysis. Advances in neural networks, particularly deep learning, have accelerated this evolution by improving the ability of applications to interpret and interact with their visual surroundings.

With the emergence of foundation models—large-scale AI models trained on extensive datasets—there is a shift towards more adaptable and scalable solutions in computer vision. These models, like OpenAI's CLIP, are already trained to recognize many visual patterns. They can do various tasks, like image classification, object detection, and image captioning, with minimal additional training.

Foundation models are changing how AI is developed because they are flexible and efficient. Multiple tasks can be done with a single, complete model, which saves developers time and money. This method makes work easier and helps the models do better on different tasks, setting the stage for more big steps in computer vision.

This article will explore the impact of foundational models in computer vision. We will examine their architectures, trace their evolution, and showcase their application through case studies in image classification, object detection, and image captioning.  We'll discuss their broader impact on the field and look ahead to the exciting future of foundation models in AI.

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What are Foundation Models?

Foundation models are a big change in AI. They move away from specialized systems and toward more generalist frameworks that can get data from huge, diverse, and unlabeled datasets and use it for different tasks with minimal additional training.

Pre-trained models like GPT-3, BERT, and DALL-E have absorbed wide-ranging knowledge from huge datasets, enabling them to understand broad aspects of the world. This preliminary training allows these models to be fine-tuned for specific applications, avoiding the need to build new models from scratch for each task.

The Transformer architecture, commonly associated with these models, excels at processing data sequences through attention mechanisms that dynamically evaluate the importance of different inputs. This design enables the models to generate coherent and contextually relevant outputs across various data types, including text and images.

Foundation models are designed to be a common starting point customized to perform well on a wide range of downstream tasks, a strong base of modern AI systems.

Key Examples of Foundation Models in AI

Transformer-based Large Language Models (LLMs):

Transformer-based LLMs, such as GPT-3 and BERT, have significantly advanced the capabilities of AI in natural language processing. These models utilize a transformer architecture that allows for highly effective parallel processing and handling of sequential data. They are pivotal due to their ability to learn from vast amounts of data and generalize across various tasks without task-specific tuning, dramatically enhancing efficiency and flexibility in AI. applications​.

Transformer Architecture

Transformer Architecture

CLIP (Contrastive Language–Image Pre-training):

CLIP by OpenAI is another foundational model designed to understand images in conjunction with textual descriptions. This multimodal model can perform tasks that require linking images with relevant text, making it exceptionally useful in applications that span both visual and textual data. Its ability to generalize from natural language to visual concepts without direct training on specific visual tasks marks a significant advancement in AI's capabilities​​.

CLIP Training

CLIP Training


BERT (Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers):

BERT is revolutionary in the NLP domain. Developed by Google, BERT's bidirectional training mechanism allows it to understand the context of a word based on all surrounding words, unlike previous models, which processed text linearly. 

This capability has set new standards for NLP tasks, including question-answering and language translation. BERT's effectiveness is further enhanced by techniques like masked language modeling, which involves predicting randomly masked words in a sentence, providing a robust way to learn deep contextual relationships within the text. The model's flexibility is evident from its various adaptations, such as RoBERTa and DistilBERT, which adjust its architecture for optimized performance or efficiency​.

Comparison of BERT architectures

Comparison of BERT Architectures 

Architectural Evolution of Foundation Models

Dual-Encoder Architecture

Dual-encoder architectures employ two separate encoders, each handling a different type of input—textual, visual, or from different languages. Each encoder independently processes its input, and its outputs are aligned using a contrastive loss function, which synchronizes the embeddings from both encoders. This method is invaluable for tasks like image-text and multilingual information retrieval, where distinct processing pathways are necessary for each modality or language.

Fusion Architecture

Fusion architectures take a step further by integrating the outputs of individual encoders into a single, cohesive representation. This approach allows for more intricate interactions between modalities, leading to improved performance on tasks that demand a nuanced understanding of the combined data, such as visual question-answering and multimodal sentiment analysis.

Encoder-Decoder Architecture

Encoder-decoder architectures are traditionally used for sequence-to-sequence tasks and have been adapted for vision-language applications. These models encode the input into a latent representation, which the decoder then uses to generate an output sequence. 

Approaches like cross-modal attention mechanisms have been introduced to improve the model's ability to focus on salient parts of the input, improving the relevance and coherence of the generated text.


Adapted Large Language Models (LLMs)

Adapted LLMs involve modifying pre-existing language models to accommodate new modalities or tasks by incorporating new encoders, such as visual encoders. This adaptation allows models like GPT and BERT to handle visual content understanding and generation, bridging NLP and computer vision applications.

Comparison of different E-D architectures

Comparison of different E-D architectures

The evolution of foundation model architectures has significantly expanded the capabilities of AI systems in handling vision-language tasks. Each architectural type offers unique advantages and caters to different application requirements, pushing the boundaries of what is achievable with multimodal AI.


Training Objectives and Methodologies in Foundation Models

Foundation models utilize diverse training objectives and methodologies, primarily focusing on contrastive and generative objectives. Each plays a critical role in guiding the development and effectiveness of these models across various applications.

Contrastive Objectives

Contrastive objectives aim to teach models to distinguish between similar and dissimilar examples. For instance, a contrastive image-text model might be trained to maximize the similarity between an image and a matching caption while minimizing the similarity between that image and unrelated captions. This teaches the model to create meaningful representations of both visual and textual data.

Here are the methodologies used in this training objective:

  • Contrastive Learning: This approach is essential for learning high-quality representations by maximizing the similarity between related pairs and minimizing it between unrelated pairs. It's extensively used in models like CoCa, which uses a dual-encoder system to align text and image representations.
  • Unlabeled Data Utilization: Contrastive learning is particularly valuable for using abundant unlabeled data, which is crucial given the high cost and effort required to curate large-scale labeled datasets.
  • Across Domains: Contrastive learning improves the ability of foundation models to work across domains without using labeled data by letting them adapt to different tasks.

Generative Objectives

These objectives focus on having the model create new data based on its understanding.  For example, an image captioning model might have a decoder that takes the encoded representation of an image and generates a textual description, word by word.

Here are some examples:

  • Encoder-Decoder Architectures: These architectures generate new data based on learned representations. The CoCa model, for example, uses an encoder to process images and a decoder to generate text, facilitating detailed image captioning and comprehensive vision-language understanding.
  • Fine-Grained Representations: Generative objectives are crucial for managing detailed representations for tasks that require a deep understanding of content, such as intricate image descriptions or detailed text generation.

CoCa Model

Integrated Approaches

Modern foundation models often combine contrastive and generative objectives. This allows them to learn to discriminate between different datasets and generate realistic and contextually appropriate outputs.

Here are some examples of the methods:

  • Combining Objectives: Modern models often blend contrastive and generative objectives to leverage their strengths. This hybrid strategy enables training models that distinguish between data types and generate coherent, contextually accurate outputs.
  • CoCa Model: The CoCa model is an example of this unified approach. It has a decoupled decoder design that separately improves contrastive and generative goals. This makes the model better at both alignment and generation tasks.
  • Subsuming Capabilities: This method lets models like CoCa combine the best features of models good at zero-shot learning tasks (e.g.,  CLIP) and models good at multimodal image-text tasks (e.g., SIMVLM) into a single model.

Foundation models, through their diverse training objectives and methodologies, are pivotal in developing general AI. Due to their adaptability and effectiveness in addressing diverse and challenging AI problems, they excel in various applications, from simple classification tasks to complex multimodal interactions.

Foundation Models in Action: Transforming Computer Vision Tasks

Foundation models have significantly influenced a range of computer vision tasks, leveraging their extensive pre-trained knowledge to enhance performance across various applications. Here are some notable case studies:

Scene Change Detection in Videos

CLIP, a foundation model from OpenAI, has been utilized to detect video scene changes, such as differentiating between game and advertisement segments during sports broadcasts. This is achieved by evaluating the similarity between consecutive frames.

Object Detection and Classification

As developed by Deci, YOLO-NAS is a foundation model that achieves state-of-the-art performance in real-time object detection, effectively balancing accuracy and speed. It is suitable for applications like traffic monitoring and automated retail systems.

Medical Imaging

EfficientNet, another foundation model, has been successfully applied in the healthcare sector, particularly in medical image analysis. Its ability to maintain high accuracy while managing computational demands makes it an invaluable tool for diagnosing diseases from medical imaging data such as X-rays and MRIs.

Retail and E-Commerce

The BLIP-2 vision language model facilitates automatic product tagging and image indexing, which is crucial for e-commerce platforms. This function automatically generates product tags and descriptions based on their images, enhancing searchability and catalogue management.

Content Analysis in Media and Entertainment

The OWL-ViT model is employed for content analysis tasks in the media and entertainment industry. It supports open-vocabulary object detection, aiding video summarization, scene recognition, and content moderation. It ensures that digital platforms can efficiently categorize and manage a vast array of visual content.

These examples illustrate how foundation models are integrated into real-world applications, revolutionizing how machines understand and interact with visual data across various industries.


Innovations in Model Architecture: Transforming Computer Vision

Computer vision has improved greatly due to the development of model architectures such as YOLO-NAS, Mask2Former, DETR, and ConvNeXt, which perform well on various vision tasks.


YOLO-NAS, developed by Deci AI, upped the game for object detection tasks by outperforming other YOLO models. It uses neural architecture search (NAS) to optimize the trade-off between accuracy and latency. It has enhanced quantization support, making it suitable for real-time edge-device applications.

YOLO-NAS has shown superior performance in detecting small objects and improving localization accuracy, which is crucial for autonomous driving and real-time surveillance applications.





Mask2Former is a versatile transformer-based architecture capable of addressing various image segmentation tasks, including panoptic, instance, and semantic segmentation

Its key innovation is masked attention, which extracts localized features within predicted mask regions. This model simplifies the research effort by handling multiple segmentation tasks and outperforms specialized architectures on several datasets.

 Mask2Former Architecture

Mask2Former Architecture


DETR (Detection Transformer) makes the object detection pipeline easier by treating it as a direct set prediction problem. This means many common parts, such as non-maximum suppression, are unnecessary.

It uses a transformer encoder-decoder architecture and performs well in accuracy and runtime as the well-known Faster R-CNN baseline on the COCO dataset.

DETR Architecture

DETR Architecture



ConvNeXt modernizes traditional convolutional neural network (CNN) designs by incorporating strategies from transformers, significantly boosting performance and scalability. 

This model overcomes the constraints of previous CNNs by integrating features such as larger kernel sizes and LayerScale, which stabilize training and enhance the network's capacity for representation.

ConvNeXt Architecture

ConvNeXt Architecture


GroundingDINO elevates self-supervised learning by deepening computer vision's ability to understand visual content without relying on labelled datasets. It utilizes knowledge distillation, where a smaller model is trained to emulate a more sophisticated, pre-trained "teacher" model. 

This technique enables precise object identification and segmentation within images, significantly increasing the efficiency of training vision models on extensive, unlabeled datasets.

Grounding DINO Architecture

GroundingDINO Architecture


Achievements in Accuracy, Efficiency, and Versatility of Foundation Models in Computer Vision

Achievements in Accuracy

Foundation models like EfficientNet have set new benchmarks in image classification accuracy. EfficientNet-B7, for instance, achieves state-of-the-art accuracy on ImageNet while being considerably smaller and faster than previous models.

Vision Transformers (ViTs) have also demonstrated exceptional performance, often surpassing traditional CNNs in extensive image recognition tasks. These models have been pivotal in advancing the accuracy of computer vision systems, enabling them to perform high-quality image analysis across various domains.

Achievements in Efficiency

Hardware optimization has greatly enhanced the efficiency of foundation models. Deci's foundation models, for example, are optimized for specific hardware, ensuring efficient performance and resource utilization. This optimization is crucial for real-time applications that require low latency, such as object detection in video surveillance, where models like YOLO-NAS provide state-of-the-art performance.

Achievements in Versatility

Foundation models have shown remarkable versatility across a range of computer vision tasks. Models like Mask2Former and OWL-ViT handle segmentation tasks without task-specific modifications, showcasing their adaptability. 

Additionally, the CLIP model by OpenAI has demonstrated its ability to understand and align visual and textual representations for versatile applications such as image-text retrieval and open-ended object detection.

Models like DALL-E-3 have expanded the limits of generative image synthesis, creating detailed and contextually appropriate images from text descriptions, thus opening new avenues for both creative and practical applications.

Empowering New Capabilities in Computer Vision

The integration of foundation models has opened up numerous new capabilities in computer vision:

  1. Enhanced Multimodal Understanding: Models like CLIP have significantly improved the understanding of relationships between different data types, aiding tasks such as image-text retrieval and open-ended object detection.
  2. Active Learning and Few-Shot Learning: Foundation models have made active learning strategies more effective by using pre-trained embeddings to label informative samples selectively. This is useful when there are few annotation resources available.
  3. Generative Applications: Generative models like DALL-E-3 have expanded the limits of image synthesis, creating detailed and contextually appropriate images from text descriptions, thus opening new avenues for both creative and practical applications.


The Future of Foundation Models in AI

Developments in model architectures and training objectives are expected to improve the capabilities of foundation models to make them more adaptable and effective across various domains. Here's a detailed look at the potential future advancements and the key challenges that need to be addressed:

  • Enhanced Model Architectures and Training Methods: Ongoing improvements in model architectures, such as transformer-based designs and more sophisticated training methods, will likely lead to more powerful and efficient foundation models.
  • Multimodal Capabilities: There is an increasing focus on developing foundation models that can handle various data types beyond text and images, such as audio and video. This will improve their applicability for more complex, multimodal tasks.
  • Efficient Training Processes: Advances in training processes are expected to improve the efficiency of foundation models, enabling them to utilize broader data sets more effectively and adapt more quickly to new tasks. Meta’s recent Llama 3 release is an example.
  • Generative AI for Complex Tasks: The application of generative AI in tasks like video generation highlights a shift towards more dynamic AI systems capable of creating high-quality, diverse outputs.
  • Open-Source Development and Collaboration: Collaborative efforts and open-source development are crucial for driving innovation in foundation model technology and helping to democratize access to advanced AI tools.

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Foundational Models in AI: Key Takeaways

Foundation models have significantly transformed the computer vision field, enhancing accuracy, efficiency, and versatility. They have introduced new capabilities such as sophisticated image and video generation, advanced object detection, and improvements in real-time processing. The integration of foundation models is projected to broaden and deepen across various technological ecosystems, with profound impacts anticipated in sectors like healthcare, legal, and education. These developments indicate a future where AI will support and drive innovation and operational efficiencies across industries, leaving an indelible mark on technology and society.

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Written by

Stephen Oladele

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Frequently asked questions
  • Foundation models are large-scale AI models pre-trained on extensive datasets to capture a broad understanding of data across various domains. They serve as a base for developing more specialized models through further fine-tuning, enabling diverse applications without the need to train from scratch for each new task.

  • Foundation models transform computer vision by significantly improving the accuracy and efficiency of tasks like image classification, object detection, and image generation. By leveraging pre-trained data, these models adapt quickly to new tasks with minimal additional training, driving innovations in automated systems and AI-driven analysis.

  • Adopting AI through foundation models enhances computational efficiency and versatility in application and enables multimodal capabilities. This means they can understand and process various data types beyond their initial training, leading to more robust and adaptable AI systems that can perform a wider range of tasks more effectively.

  • Examples of foundation models in computer vision include CLIP and DALL-E from OpenAI, which handle tasks ranging from object recognition to generating images from textual descriptions. These models demonstrate foundation models' versatility and capability to recognize and creatively interpret visual data.

  • Architectural innovations such as transformer models, which use mechanisms like attention to process inputs, support the scalability and effectiveness of foundation models. These architectures are crucial for handling the large and diverse datasets on which foundation models are trained, allowing for efficient learning and adaptation across different tasks and modalities.

  • The prospects for foundation models include their potential to revolutionize fields like healthcare, law, and education by providing advanced AI tools capable of understanding complex, multimodal data. Challenges include ensuring ethical use, avoiding biases, improving model transparency, and managing the environmental impact of training large-scale models.