Learning to See by Looking at Noise

Manel Baradad*
Jonas Wulff*
Tongzhou Wang
Phillip Isola
Antonio Torralba

[Paper] [Code] [Datasets]


Current vision systems are trained on huge datasets, and these datasets come with costs: curation is expensive, they inherit human biases, and there are concerns over privacy and usage rights. To counter these costs, interest has surged in learning from cheaper data sources, such as unlabeled images. In this paper we go a step further and ask if we can do away with real image datasets entirely, instead learning from noise processes. We investigate a suite of image generation models that produce images from simple random processes. These are then used as training data for a visual representation learner with a contrastive loss. We study two types of noise processes, statistical image models and deep generative models under different random initializations. Our findings show that it is important for the noise to capture certain structural properties of real data but that good performance can be achieved even with processes that are far from realistic. We also find that diversity is a key property to learn good representations.

Game: real or noise?


Randomly selected samples for each of the datasets presented in the paper.


Top-1 accuracy for the different models proposed and baselines for Imagenet-100. The horizontal axis shows generative models sorted by performance. The two dashed lines represent approximated upper and lower bounds in performance that one can expect from a system trained from samples of a generic generative image model.

Performance of linear transfer for a ResNet50 pre-trained on different image models using MoCo-v2.

Feature visualizations

Feature visualizations for randomly selected units in the third, fifth and seventh layer of an AlexNet-based encoder trained with each of the datasets.

  title={Learning to See by Looking at Noise},
  author={Manel Baradad and Jonas Wulff and Tongzhou Wang and Phillip Isola and Antonio Torralba},
  booktitle={Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems},


MB is supported by the LaCaixa Fellowship, JW is supported by a grant from Intel Corp.