Counterfactual World Modeling for Physical Dynamics Understanding

Rahul Venkatesh,Honglin Chen,Kevin Feigelis, Khaled Jedoui, Klemen Kotar, Felix Binder,Wanhee Lee, Sherry Liu,Kevin A. Smith,Judith E. Fan,Daniel L. K. Yamins


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The ability to understand physical dynamics is essential to learning agents acting in the world. This paper presents Counterfactual World Modeling (CWM), a candidate pure vision foundational model for physical dynamics understanding. CWM consists of three basic concepts. First, we propose a simple and powerful temporally-factored masking policy for masked prediction of video data, which encourages the model to learn disentangled representations of scene appearance and dynamics. Second, as a result of the factoring, CWM is capable of generating counterfactual next-frame predictions by manipulating a few patch embeddings to exert meaningful control over scene dynamics. Third, the counterfactual modeling capability enables the design of counterfactual queries to extract vision structures similar to keypoints, optical flows, and segmentations, which are useful for dynamics understanding. We show that zero-shot readouts of these structures extracted by the counterfactual queries attain competitive performance to prior methods on real-world datasets. Finally, we demonstrate that CWM achieves state-of-the-art performance on the challenging Physion benchmark for evaluating physical dynamics understanding.
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