Picasso: A free open-source visualizer for Convolutional Neural Networks
While it’s easier than ever to define and train deep neural networks (DNNs), understanding the learning process remains somewhat opaque. Monitoring the loss or classification error during training won’t always prevent your model from learning the wrong thing or learning a proxy for your intended classification task. To understand what we mean, consider this (possibly apocryphal) story :
Once upon a time, the US Army wanted to use neural networks to automatically detect camouflaged enemy tanks. The researchers trained a neural net on 50 photos of camouflaged tanks in trees, and 50 photos of trees without tanks…
Wisely, the researchers had originally taken 200 photos, 100 photos of tanks and 100 photos of trees. They had used only 50 of each for the training set. The researchers ran the neural network on the remaining 100 photos, and without further training the neural network classified all remaining photos correctly. Success confirmed! The researchers handed the finished work to the Pentagon, which soon handed it back, complaining that in their own tests the neural network did no better than chance at discriminating photos.
It turned out that in the researchers’ dataset, photos of camouflaged tanks had been taken on cloudy days, while photos of plain forest had been taken on sunny days. The neural network had learned to distinguish cloudy days from sunny days, instead of distinguishing camouflaged tanks from empty forest.
Regardless of the veracity of this tale, the point is familiar to machine learning researchers: training metrics don’t always tell the whole story. And the stakes are higher than ever before: for rising applications of deep learning like autonomous vehicles, these kinds of training errors can be deadly .
Fortunately, standard visualizations like partial occlusion  and saliency maps  provide a sanity check on the learning process. Toolkits  for standard neural network visualizations exist, along with tools for monitoring the training process. They’re often tied to the deep learning framework, if not model-specific. Could a general, easy-to-setup tool for generating standard visualizations have saved these researchers from detecting sunny days instead of tanks?
Picasso is a free open-source (Eclipse Public License) DNN visualization tool that gives you partial occlusion and saliency maps with minimal fuss. At Merantix, we work with a variety of neural network architectures; we developed Picasso to make it easy to see standard visualizations across our models in our various verticals: including applications in automotive, such as understanding when road segmentation or object detection fail; advertisement, such as understanding why certain creatives receive higher click-through rates; and medical imaging, such as analyzing what regions in a CT or X-ray image contain irregularities.
Picasso is a Flask application that glues together a deep-learning framework with a set of default and user-defined visualizations. You can use the built-in visualizations and easily add your own. Picasso was developed to work with checkpointed Keras and Tensorflow neural networks. If you want to try it out but don’t have any trained models, we provide Tensorflow and Keras MNIST checkpoints and a Keras VGG16 checkpoint for you.
At Merantix, we are particularly interested in convolutional neural networks (CNNs) that take images as inputs and do classification. We developed Picasso with these parameters in mind. However, the framework is flexible enough to use on all kinds of models. While the included visualizations should be fairly robust across different NNs, you can still implement model-specific visualizations if you want to.
We provide a few standard visualizations out of the box:
- Partial occlusion Occlude parts of the image and see how the classification changes.
- Saliency map Compute derivatives of class predictions with respect to the input image.
- Class Prediction Not a visualization per se, but can be a handy, simple check on the learning process.
And we have a couple more in the works! For a more in-depth exposition, see our paper on arXiv.
Picasso in practice
Let’s attack the tank problem with Picasso’s two builtin visualizations: partial occlusion and saliency maps. In these examples, we’ll used a pre-trained VGG16 model for classification. We already know this model is pretty good at classifying tanks: can we use these visualizations to check that model is actually classifying based on the tank and not, say, the sky?
We can see how this visualization may have helped the Army: it’s clear that when the “tanky” parts are missing (for instance, the tank treads), the model can’t successfully classify it. Interestingly, when you block some of the tread, there’s a higher probability of classifying the image as a half-track. This intuitively makes sense, because a half-track has regular wheels in the front.
In addition to partial occlusions, we also provide saliency maps out-of-the-box. Saliency maps look at the derivative of the input image (via backpropagation) with respect to classification. A high value at a given pixel means changing this pixel should more dramatically affect the classification.
We wanted it to be particularly easy to integrate new visualizations. All you need to do is drop your visualization code in the
visualizations folder and cook up an HTML template to display it.
Using your own Models
Naturally, you’ll want to use the included visualizations with your own trained neural networks. We’ve tried to make this as simple as possible, but at the minimum you’ll need to define three methods:
preprocesstell the visualization how to change uploaded images into NN inputs
postprocesstell the visualization how to change flattened intermediate layers to the image dimensions (this is needed by visualizations which operate on intermediate layers, like saliency maps)
decode_probtell the visualization how to interpret the raw output, usually an array of probabilities, by annotating with class names
How to construct these functions is detailed in this tutorial. These functions can be specified separately from the source code for the app.
We’re very open to suggestions about how better to structure our application. And if you’d like to contribute a visualization or anything else, even better! Head over to our github repository for more. We’re releasing Picasso under the EPL because we intend for it to become part of the Eclipse foundation.
- Elias and Filippo for early code contributions and finding bugs and issues.
- John, Josh, Rasmus, and Stefan for their careful code review and feedback on this article.
- David and Nader for reviewing and discussion of this article.
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- Yosinski, Jason, et al. “Understanding neural networks through deep visualization.” Deep Learning Workshop, International Conference on Machine Learning (ICML), 2015.