Muhammad Awais Centre for Vision Speech and Signal Processing CVSSP, Surrey Institute for people-centred AI; self-supervised learning; deep learning; machine learning; foundation models; multimodal learning and analysis

Dr Muhammad Awais

Senior Lecturer in Trustworthy and Responsible AI. Leaading the research on foundation models and self-supervised learning
PhD in AI, MSc in AI, BSc Computer Engineering, Bsc in Math and Physics



Research interests


Recently, impressively growing efforts have been devoted to the challenging task of facial age estimation. The improvements in performance achieved by new algorithms are measured on several benchmarking test databases with different characteristics to check on consistency. While this is a valuable methodology in itself, a significant issue in the most age estimation related studies is that the reported results lack an assessment of intrinsic system uncertainty. Hence, a more in-depth view is required to examine the robustness of age estimation systems in different scenarios. The purpose of this paper is to conduct an evaluative and comparative analysis of different age estimation systems to identify trends, as well as the points of their critical vulnerability. In particular, we investigate four age estimation systems, including the online Microsoft service, two best state-of-the-art approaches advocated in the literature, as well as a novel age estimation algorithm. We analyse the effect of different internal and external factors, including gender, ethnicity, expression, makeup, illumination conditions, quality and resolution of the face images, on the performance of these age estimation systems. The goal of this sensitivity analysis is to provide the biometrics community with the insight and understanding of the critical subject-, camera- and environmental-based factors that affect the overall performance of the age estimation system under study.

Soroush Fatemifar, Muhammad Awais, Ali Akbari, Josef Kittler (2020)A Stacking Ensemble for Anomaly Based Client-Specific Face Spoofing Detection, In: 2020 IEEE International Conference on Image Processing (ICIP)pp. 1371-1375 IEEE

To counteract spoofing attacks, the majority of recent approaches to face spoofing attack detection formulate the problem as a binary classification task in which real data and attack-accesses are both used to train spoofing detectors. Although the classical training framework has been demonstrated to deliver satisfactory results, its robustness to unseen attacks is debatable. Inspired by the recent success of anomaly detection models in face spoofing detection, we propose an ensemble of one-class classifiers fused by a Stacking ensemble method to reduce the generalisation error in the more realistic unseen attack scenario. To be consistent with this scenario, anomalous samples are considered neither for training the component anomaly classifiers nor for the design of the Stacking ensemble. To achieve better face-anti spoofing results, we adopt client-specific information to build both constituent classifiers as well as the Stacking combiner. Besides, we propose a novel 2-stage Genetic Algorithm to further improve the generalisation performance of Stacking ensemble. We evaluate the effectiveness of the proposed systems on publicly available face anti-spoofing databases including Replay-Attack, Replay-Mobile and Rose-Youtu. The experimental results following the unseen attack evaluation protocol confirm the merits of the proposed model.

Fatemeh Nazarieh, Zhenhua Feng, Muhammad Awais, Wenwu Wang, Josef Vaclav Kittler (2024)A Survey of Cross-Modal Visual Content Generation, In: IEEE Transactions on Circuits and Systems for Video Technology Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE)

Cross-modal content generation has become very popular in recent years. To generate high-quality and realistic content, a variety of methods have been proposed. Among these approaches, visual content generation has attracted significant attention from academia and industry due to its vast potential in various applications. This survey provides an overview of recent advances in visual content generation conditioned on other modalities, such as text, audio, speech, and music, with a focus on their key contributions to the community. In addition, we summarize the existing publicly available datasets that can be used for training and benchmarking cross-modal visual content generation models. We provide an in-depth exploration of the datasets used for audio-to-visual content generation, filling a gap in the existing literature. Various evaluation metrics are also introduced along with the datasets. Furthermore, we discuss the challenges and limitations encountered in the area, such as modality alignment and semantic coherence. Last, we outline possible future directions for synthesizing visual content from other modalities including the exploration of new modalities, and the development of multi-task multi-modal networks. This survey serves as a resource for researchers interested in quickly gaining insights into this burgeoning field.

Jiantao Wu, Shentong Mo, Muhammad Awais, Sara Atito, Zhenhua Feng, Josef Kittler Masked Momentum Contrastive Learning for Zero-shot Semantic Understanding, In:

Self-supervised pretraining (SSP) has emerged as a popular technique in machine learning, enabling the extraction of meaningful feature representations without labelled data. In the realm of computer vision, pretrained vision transformers (ViTs) have played a pivotal role in advancing transfer learning. Nonetheless, the escalating cost of finetuning these large models has posed a challenge due to the explosion of model size. This study endeavours to evaluate the effectiveness of pure self-supervised learning (SSL) techniques in computer vision tasks, obviating the need for finetuning, with the intention of emulating human-like capabilities in generalisation and recognition of unseen objects. To this end, we propose an evaluation protocol for zero-shot segmentation based on a prompting patch. Given a point on the target object as a prompt, the algorithm calculates the similarity map between the selected patch and other patches, upon that, a simple thresholding is applied to segment the target. Another evaluation is intra-object and inter-object similarity to gauge discriminatory ability of SSP ViTs. Insights from zero-shot segmentation from prompting and discriminatory abilities of SSP led to the design of a simple SSP approach, termed MMC. This approaches combines Masked image modelling for encouraging similarity of local features, Momentum based self-distillation for transferring semantics from global to local features, and global Contrast for promoting semantics of global features, to enhance discriminative representations of SSP ViTs. Consequently, our proposed method significantly reduces the overlap of intra-object and inter-object similarities, thereby facilitating effective object segmentation within an image. Our experiments reveal that MMC delivers top-tier results in zero-shot semantic segmentation across various datasets.

Cong Wu, Xiao-Jun Wu, Josef Kittler, Tianyang Xu, Sara Atito, Muhammad Awais, Zhenhua Feng SCD-Net: Spatiotemporal Clues Disentanglement Network for Self-supervised Skeleton-based Action Recognition, In:

Contrastive learning has achieved great success in skeleton-based action recognition. However, most existing approaches encode the skeleton sequences as entangled spatiotemporal representations and confine the contrasts to the same level of representation. Instead, this paper introduces a novel contrastive learning framework, namely Spatiotemporal Clues Disentanglement Network (SCD-Net). Specifically, we integrate the decoupling module with a feature extractor to derive explicit clues from spatial and temporal domains respectively. As for the training of SCD-Net, with a constructed global anchor, we encourage the interaction between the anchor and extracted clues. Further, we propose a new masking strategy with structural constraints to strengthen the contextual associations, leveraging the latest development from masked image modelling into the proposed SCD-Net. We conduct extensive evaluations on the NTU-RGB+D (60&120) and PKU-MMD (I&II) datasets, covering various downstream tasks such as action recognition, action retrieval, transfer learning, and semi-supervised learning. The experimental results demonstrate the effectiveness of our method, which outperforms the existing state-of-the-art (SOTA) approaches significantly.

SYED SAFWAN KHALID, MUHAMMAD AWAIS TANVIR RANA, ZHENHUA FENG, CHI HO CHAN, AMMARAH FAROOQ, ALI AKBARI, JOSEF VACLAV KITTLER (2022)NPT-Loss: Demystifying face recognition losses with Nearest Proxies Triplet, In: IEEE transactions on pattern analysis and machine intelligence IEEE

Face recognition (FR) using deep convolutional neural networks (DCNNs) has seen remarkable success in recent years. One key ingredient of DCNN-based FR is the design of a loss function that ensures discrimination between various identities. The state-of-the-art (SOTA) solutions utilise normalised Softmax loss with additive and/or multiplicative margins. Despite being popular and effective, these losses are justified only intuitively with little theoretical explanations. In this work, we show that under the LogSumExp (LSE) approximation, the SOTA Softmax losses become equivalent to a proxy-triplet loss that focuses on nearest-neighbour negative proxies only. This motivates us to propose a variant of the proxy-triplet loss, entitled Nearest Proxies Triplet (NPT) loss, which unlike SOTA solutions, converges for a wider range of hyper-parameters and offers flexibility in proxy selection and thus outperforms SOTA techniques. We generalise many SOTA losses into a single framework and give theoretical justifications for the assertion that minimising the proposed loss ensures a minimum separability between all identities. We also show that the proposed loss has an implicit mechanism of hard-sample mining. We conduct extensive experiments using various DCNN architectures on a number of FR benchmarks to demonstrate the efficacy of the proposed scheme over SOTA methods.

Ali Akbari, Muhammad Awais, Soroush Fatemifar, Syed Safwan Khalid, Josef Kittler (2022)RAgE: Robust Age Estimation Through Subject Anchoring with Consistency Regularisation, In: IEEE transactions on pattern analysis and machine intelligencePPpp. 1-15 IEEE

Modern facial age estimation systems can achieve high accuracy when training and test datasets are identically distributed and captured under similar conditions. However, domain shifts in data, encountered in practice, lead to a sharp drop in accuracy of most existing age estimation algorithms. In this work, we propose a novel method, namely RAgE, to improve the robustness and reduce the uncertainty of age estimates by leveraging unlabelled data through a subject anchoring strategy and a novel consistency regularisation term. First, we propose an similarity-preserving pseudo-labelling algorithm by which the model generates pseudo-labels for a cohort of unlabelled images belonging to the same subject, while taking into account the similarity among age labels. In order to improve the robustness of the system, a consistency regularisation term is then used to simultaneously encourage the model to produce invariant outputs for the images in the cohort with respect to an anchor image. We propose a novel consistency regularisation term the noise-tolerant property of which effectively mitigates the so-called confirmation bias caused by incorrect pseudo-labels. Experiments on multiple benchmark ageing datasets demonstrate substantial improvements over the state-of-the-art methods and robustness to confounding external factors, including subject's head pose, illumination variation and appearance of expression in the face image.

Soroush Fatemifar, Muhammad Awais, Ali Akbari, Josef Kittler (2022)Developing a generic framework for anomaly detection, In: Pattern recognition124 Elsevier

The fusion of one-class classifiers (OCCs) has been shown to exhibit promising performance in a variety of machine learning applications. The ability to assess the similarity or correlation between the output of various OCCs is an important prerequisite for building of a meaningful OCCs ensemble. However, this aspect of the OCC fusion problem has been mostly ignored so far. In this paper, we propose a new method of constructing a fusion of OCCs with three contributions: (a) As a key contribution, enabling an OCC ensemble design using exclusively non anomalous samples, we propose a novel fitness function to evaluate the competency of OCCs without requiring samples from the anomalous class; (b) As a minor, but impactful contribution, we investigate alternative forms of score normalisation of OCCs, and identify a novel two-sided normalisation method as the best in coping with long tail non anomalous data distributions; (c) In the context of building our proposed OCC fusion system based on the weighted averaging approach, we find that the weights optimised using a particle swarm optimisation algorithm produce the most effective solution. We evaluate the merits of the proposed method on 15 benchmarking datasets from different application domains including medical, anti-spam and face spoofing detection. The comparison of the proposed approach with state-of-the-art methods alongside the statistical analysis confirm the effectiveness of the proposed model. (c) 2021 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Ali Akbari, Muhammad Awais, Soroush Fatemifar, Josef Kittler (2023)Deep Order-Preserving Learning With Adaptive Optimal Transport Distance, In: IEEE transactions on pattern analysis and machine intelligence45(1)pp. 313-328 IEEE

We consider a framework for taking into consideration the relative importance (ordinality) of object labels in the process of learning a label predictor function. The commonly used loss functions are not well matched to this problem, as they exhibit deficiencies in capturing natural correlations of the labels and the corresponding data. We propose to incorporate such correlations into our learning algorithm using an optimal transport formulation. Our approach is to learn the ground metric, which is partly involved in forming the optimal transport distance, by leveraging ordinality as a general form of side information in its formulation. Based on this idea, we then develop a novel loss function for training deep neural networks. A highly efficient alternating learning method is then devised to alternatively optimise the ground metric and the deep model in an end-to-end learning manner. This scheme allows us to adaptively adjust the shape of the ground metric, and consequently the shape of the loss function for each application. We back up our approach by theoretical analysis and verify the performance of our proposed scheme by applying it to two learning tasks, i.e. chronological age estimation from the face and image aesthetic assessment. The numerical results on several benchmark datasets demonstrate the superiority of the proposed algorithm.

Lei Ju, Josef Vaclav Kittler, Muhammad Awais Tanvir Rana, Wankou Yang, Zhenhua Feng (2023)Keep an eye on faces: Robust face detection with heatmap-Assisted spatial attention and scale-Aware layer attention, In: Pattern recognition140 Elsevier Ltd

We propose supervised spatial attention that employs a heatmap generator for instructive feature learning.•We formulate a rectified Gaussian scoring function to generate informative heatmaps.•We present scale-aware layer attention that eliminates redundant information from pyramid features.•A voting strategy is designed to produce more reliable classification results.•Our face detector achieves encouraging performance in accuracy and speed on several benchmarks. Modern anchor-based face detectors learn discriminative features using large-capacity networks and extensive anchor settings. In spite of their promising results, they are not without problems. First, most anchors extract redundant features from the background. As a consequence, the performance improvements are achieved at the expense of a disproportionate computational complexity. Second, the predicted face boxes are only distinguished by a classifier supervised by pre-defined positive, negative and ignored anchors. This strategy may ignore potential contributions from cohorts of anchors labelled negative/ignored during inference simply because of their inferior initialisation, although they can regress well to a target. In other words, true positives and representative features may get filtered out by unreliable confidence scores. To deal with the first concern and achieve more efficient face detection, we propose a Heatmap-assisted Spatial Attention (HSA) module and a Scale-aware Layer Attention (SLA) module to extract informative features using lower computational costs. To be specific, SLA incorporates the information from all the feature pyramid layers, weighted adaptively to remove redundant layers. HSA predicts a reshaped Gaussian heatmap and employs it to facilitate a spatial feature selection by better highlighting facial areas. For more reliable decision-making, we merge the predicted heatmap scores and classification results by voting. Since our heatmap scores are based on the distance to the face centres, they are able to retain all the well-regressed anchors. The experiments obtained on several well-known benchmarks demonstrate the merits of the proposed method.

ALI AKBARI, MUHAMMAD AWAIS TANVIR RANA, SOROUSH FATEMIFAR, SYED SAFWAN KHALID, JOSEF VACLAV KITTLER (2021)A Novel Ground Metric for Optimal Transport based Chronological Age Estimation, In: IEEE Transactions on Cybernetics IEEE

—Label distribution Learning (LDL) is the state-of-the-art approach to deal with a number of real-world applications , such as chronological age estimation from a face image, where there is an inherent similarity among adjacent age labels. LDL takes into account the semantic similarity by assigning a label distribution to each instance. The well-known Kullback–Leibler (KL) divergence is the widely used loss function for the LDL framework. However, the KL divergence does not fully and effectively capture the semantic similarity among age labels, thus leading to the sub-optimal performance. In this paper, we propose a novel loss function based on optimal transport theory for the LDL-based age estimation. A ground metric function plays an important role in the optimal transport formulation. It should be carefully determined based on underlying geometric structure of the label space of the application in-hand. The label space in the age estimation problem has a specific geometric structure, i.e. closer ages have more inherent semantic relationship. Inspired by this, we devise a novel ground metric function, which enables the loss function to increase the influence of highly correlated ages; thus exploiting the semantic similarity among ages more effectively than the existing loss functions. We then use the proposed loss function, namely γ–Wasserstein loss, for training a deep neural network (DNN). This leads to a notoriously computationally expensive and non-convex optimisa-tion problem. Following the standard methodology, we formulate the optimisation function as a convex problem and then use an efficient iterative algorithm to update the parameters of the DNN. Extensive experiments in age estimation on different benchmark datasets validate the effectiveness of the proposed method, which consistently outperforms state-of-the-art approaches.