Artificial Intelligence

Today I want to chat about one of the most exciting frontiers in artificial intelligence - the ability for AI systems to watch a video and summarize it in text form. This technology has exploded in capability in recent years thanks to advances in deep learning, and it unlocks a ton of new applications. Let's dive in!

AI Learns to Transcribe the Visual World

Remember when AI could barely identify simple objects in images? Now algorithms can detect hundreds of classes with crazy accuracy. Over the last decade, computer vision went from totally useless to incredibly powerful thanks to convolutional neural networks.

But recognition is just the first step. The new hotness in AI is understanding - being able to take raw perceptual data and convert it into high-level semantic concepts. And video is the perfect testing ground for this tech.

While images are a great showcase for object recognition, video pushes AI algorithms to understand how objects relate to each other over time. The goal is to translate the messy pixel-level data into a structured textual representation that captures the gist of what's happening.

This is a super hard problem! But new techniques in deep learning are starting to crack the code. Let's look at some of the key advancements making this possible:

1. transformers + giant datasets = magic

Remember BERT, that Google AI model that took NLP by storm in 2018? Well BERT was just the beginning. The transformer architecture it pioneered has become the Swiss Army knife of deep learning tasks involving language and other sequential data.

Researchers at GoogleBrain trained a transformer model called ViT which can classify 1000 different activities taking place in video clips from YouTube. The key was combining transformers with massive amounts of training data - 400,000 hours of video in this case!

import magic_transformermodel = magic_transformer(num_layers=12, pretrained=True) # pretrained on 400,000 hours of YouTube videospredictions = model.classify_video("my_vacation.mp4") # [surfing 0.93, beach 0.90, swimming 0.12, ...]

With enough data and compute, transformers can build powerful multimodal representations - connecting textual concepts to the visual world.

2. Sim-to-real transfer works surprisingly well

But collecting real world video data at that scale is prohibitively expensive. That's why AI researchers often pre-train models on synthetic video before fine-tuning on real footage.

For example, Anthropic trained their AI assistant Claude entirely in simulation before launching it in the real world. By mimicking the messiness of real conversations during training, they could transfer those skills surprisingly well.

The same technique can apply to video-to-text models. Alphabet's Deepmind trained an agent to navigate 3D houses and describe what it saw along the way. This sim-to-real approach helps bootstrap these models more efficiently.

3. Contrastive learning connects modalities

Another key technique is contrastive learning. Here, models are trained to pull positive examples closer together and push negatives apart. So the model simultaneously learns useful representations and how to associate those representations across modalities.

# anchor: video of girl playing tennis positive = "A girl hits a backhand on a tennis court."negative = "A man riding a surfboard on a wave."model.train_contrastive(anchor, positive, negative)

After enough examples, the model understands that certain visual concepts like "girl" and "tennis" correspond to the textual description. This allows aligning vision and language domains.

Contrastive techniques like CLIP have shown impressive results on image-to-text tasks. Now researchers are extending these ideas to video as well.

Early Applications Emerge

With these foundational technologies starting to mature, we're seeing a flurry of promising applications:

  • Video transcription - automating the generation of subtitles from speech, sound effects, etc.
  • Sports recaps - ingest a game video and output key highlights described in text.
  • Multimedia search - locate specific moments within videos based on textual queries.
  • Automated reporting - watch source footage from events and produce a textual summary.
  • Video descriptors for accessibility - generate descriptive audio tracks for visually impaired users.

Let's explore some real world examples:

DeepMind's Narrated Vision

Researchers at DeepMind recently demoed an AI system called Narrated Vision that watches short videos and generates narration to describe the events. It captured high level semantics about objects, actions and interactions between them:

A woman is holding a mug and pouring coffee into it. She adds sugar from a jar and stirs it with a metal spoon. Then she picks up the mug and takes a sip.

This shows how far caption generation has come at summarizing the essence of a video in detailed natural language.

Twelve Labs - Pegasus-1

Twelve Labs is a startup focused on video understanding AI services. Their new model Pegasus-1 ingests short video clips and generates multi-sentence summaries:

Input video: Person swings baseball bat and hits ball over fence. Crowd cheers.Output: A baseball player hits a home run during a game. The ball flies over the outfield fence as the batter runs around bases. The crowd cheers loudly to celebrate.

The goal is to provide developers with easy access to cutting-edge video-to-text conversion to build creative applications.

Google's Multitask Unified Model (MUM)

While not their primary focus, Google has been dabbling in video-to-text as part of their Multitask Unified Model project. The idea is to build a "universal translator" that can ingest any type of data - text, images, audio, video - and contextualize it.

During their 2021 marketing campaign for MUM, they showed demos of querying the model with a video clip and getting back relevant text results. There's still limited public info, but no doubt Google is leveraging YouTube's trove of data to advance video understanding behind the scenes.

The Legal Gray Zone

Like all generative AI applications, video-to-text models raise tricky legal questions around data rights and content ownership. For example, who owns the copyright on a video summary generated by an AI?

Things get especially messy for models trained on copyrighted data scraped from the web. Large language models like GPT-3 caused an uproar over training on unauthorized content.

Right now, these models live in a legal gray zone. But expect policy debates to heat up as this tech becomes more accessible. Especially when it comes to commercial use cases.

What's Next for Multimodal AI

Though still early days, the progress on video-to-text conversion marks a significant milestone for AI. Translating pixels into language requires a deep integration of vision, audio, speech, and natural language understanding.

Researchers are also exploring even more impressive feats like:

  • Text-to-video generation - creating original video content from textual descriptions
  • Multimodal chatbots like Anthropic's Claude that can discuss images or video clips
  • Self-supervised learning to scale training with unlabeled video data.

The commercial opportunities will drive rapid progress in this space. And video-to-text models will keep improving until they can summarize the visual world around them as well as a human.

What other applications of this tech can you envision? Let me know on Twitter what you found interesting! We have an amazing decade of multimodal AI innovation ahead.🚀


1. What are the main techniques used in video-to-text models?

Video-to-text models leverage a combination of advanced deep learning architectures including convolutional neural networks for computer vision, sequence models like LSTMs for temporal modeling, and transformer networks for high-level language tasks. Specific techniques include contrastive learning to connect modalities, transfer learning from large pretrained models, and massively scaled model training enabled by transformers. The key is effectively integrating different modalities like visual, speech, and language understanding into a unified model.

2. How much training data do these models require?

The training datasets for state-of-the-art video-to-text models need to contain hundreds of thousands to millions of video clips and corresponding descriptive text sentences. For example, the HowTo100M dataset used for instructional video modeling has 136 million clips totaling over 20,000 hours. The goal is to learn robust representations that generalize across diverse settings and actions. This requires huge volumes of varied training data.

3. What are some current limitations of video-to-text generation?

The technology has improved dramatically but still has limitations:

  • Long-form video understanding remains difficult, with most models focusing on short clips
  • Generative quality is not yet human-level and can lack coherency
  • Accuracy drops significantly when applied to out-of-domain videos
  • Struggles with rare events and nuanced semantic understanding
  • Significant computing resources needed for training and inference

4. How is video-to-text technology being applied today?

Some current use cases include:

  • Automated video captioning and transcription
  • News and sports highlight generation
  • Assisting visually impaired users via generated descriptive audio
  • Semantic search within video libraries using natural language queries
  • Automated multimedia reporting and description for internal documents
  • Summarization of meetings, lectures, and presentations

5. What companies are working on this technology?

Tech giants like Google, Meta, and DeepMind have research initiatives around video-to-text modeling. Startups like Verbit, Descript, and Wibbitz are productizing different capabilities. Twelve Labs, Synthesia, and other new companies also focus specifically on generative video AI. Otter.ai, AssemblyAI, and Rev.com provide transcription services leveraging AI.

6. What are some future applications of this technology?

Assuming continued progress, we could see applications like:

  • Automatic "director's commentary" video generation
  • Dynamic video editing and summarization tools
  • Immersive accessibility features for the visually impaired
  • Automated assistant for identifying important moments in footage
  • Annotation and hyperlinking of objects in video to external knowledge
  • Video chat tools that can discuss and summarize call contents

7. What are risks and potential misuses of this technology?

Like many AI generative technologies, there exists potential for misuse if deployed irresponsibly. Risks include:

  • Propagating biases that exist in training data
  • Enabling creation of fake or misrepresentative video content
  • Violating copyright on training datasets
  • Automating censorship capabilities
  • Surveillance concerns with automated analysis of footage

8. How quickly is progress being made in video-to-text capabilities?

The pace of progress is quite rapid thanks to Transformer architectures, large models, and growing compute capabilities. Performance on benchmark datasets has improved immensely in just the last couple of years. We're reaching a point where short-form video captioning is becoming fairly robust, unlocking new applications. But higher-level comprehension of complex video still remains a big challenge.

9. What are key datasets used in training and evaluating these models?

Some key datasets include:

  • HowTo100M: 136M clips of narrated instructional videos
  • Kinetics: 650K YouTube clips covering 400 human actions
  • MSR-VTT: 10K open-domain video snippets with captions
  • YouCook2: 2000 long-form cooking videos with timestamps
  • ActivityNet Captions: 20k YouTube videos with aligned captions

Rich annotated datasets at scale are critical to push boundaries of video-to-text modeling.

10. What breakthroughs could significantly advance these models in the future?

Some promising directions that could drive future progress include:

  • Architectures that better integrate modalities and scale to huge datasets
  • Training techniques like self-supervision to utilize unlabeled video
  • Multitask models that jointly learn related skills like retrieval and generation
  • Improved generalization and transfer learning abilities
  • Advances in video synthesis and editing with generated text
  • Reinforcement learning to optimize open-ended video captioning

As with other generative AI fields, future advances will be driven by scaling up models and training data, and developing more flexible model architectures.

Rasheed Rabata

Is a solution and ROI-driven CTO, consultant, and system integrator with experience in deploying data integrations, Data Hubs, Master Data Management, Data Quality, and Data Warehousing solutions. He has a passion for solving complex data problems. His career experience showcases his drive to deliver software and timely solutions for business needs.

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