Generative deep learning is an exciting field that focuses on teaching machines to generate creative works such as art, music, and text. The book “Generative Deep Learning” by David Foster provides a comprehensive overview of the methods and architectures used to build generative models. In this article, we will summarize the key topics covered in the book and provide an accessible introduction to this rapidly advancing technology.

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What is Generative Deep Learning?

Generative deep learning refers to deep neural networks that are able to create novel outputs, as opposed to discriminative networks which classify inputs. The goal is to teach the machine learning model to generate outputs that closely match the distribution of the training data.

Some examples of generative deep learning models include:

  1. Generative Adversarial Networks (GANs): Two neural networks compete against each other to generate realistic outputs. The generator tries to fool the discriminator which classifies outputs as real or fake.
  2. Variational Autoencoders (VAEs): Encode inputs into a latent space and learn a generative model that decodes points from the latent space. Allows for sampling and interpolation.
  3. Autoregressive Models: Model sequences by predicting the next token conditional on previous tokens. Can generate text, music, etc.
  4. Normalizing Flows: Learn transformations to convert simple distribution into complex distribution of target data.

These approaches provide the creativity and variety characteristic of human-created works. The applications of generative deep learning include generating art, music, text, 3D models, and more.

A Brief History

The earliest examples of generative models in deep learning were autoregressive models in the 1990s. Hinton’s team published an influential paper on the generative Boltzmann machine in 2006.

But modern generative deep learning really took off with the introduction of generative adversarial networks in 2014. Ian Goodfellow proposed GANs as a way to train generative models through an adversarial process.

Since then, rapid progress has been made with innovations like PixelRNN, PixelCNN, WaveNet, StyleGAN, GPT-2, MuseNet and DALL-E. The rise of deep generative models is enabled by advances in neural network architectures, growth of compute power, and availability of large datasets.

Key Methods and Architectures

The book explores the following techniques and architectures for developing creative generative models:

Variational Autoencoders (VAEs)

VAEs learn a latent space representation and generative model capable of decoding new points in the latent space.


  • Encoder network condenses inputs into latent vectors
  • Decoder network generates outputs from latent vectors
  • Latent space allows for sampling and interpolation

Generative Adversarial Networks (GANs)

GANs consist of a generator network that produces synthetic outputs to fool the discriminator which classifies outputs as real or fake.

  • Adversarial training provides excellent results
  • Hard to optimize – balance generator and discriminator
  • Many innovations to improve training (Wasserstein GAN, BigGAN, StyleGAN, etc)

Autoregressive Models

Autoregressive models predict the next token in a sequence given the previous tokens. Well suited for text, music, and video generation.

  • Model conditional probability of token based on previous tokens
  • PixelRNN, PixelCNN for images
  • WaveNet, SampleRNN for audio
  • GPT-2, GPT-3 for text generation

Normalizing Flows

Normalizing flows use a series of invertible transformations to convert a simple probability distribution into a complex distribution for target data.

  • Model expressive generative distributions
  • Exact log-likelihood calculations and sampling
  • Glow, NICE, and RealNVP are popular normalizing flow models

Diffusion Models

Diffusion models gradually add noise to data and then train a model to reverse the diffusion process, removing noise to generate high-quality outputs.

  • Adds noise through a diffusion process
  • Train model to reverse the diffusion process
  • Produces excellent image and audio generations

The book also covers energy-based models, world models, GANs for molecules, and multimodal models.

Creative Applications

Generative deep learning has enabled machines to generate highly creative and realistic outputs across different mediums including:


  • GANs like Progressive GAN and StyleGAN create stunning photorealistic images.
  • DeepDream produces psychedelic art by maximizing activations.
  • GAN dissection techniques analyze and control semantic image features.


  • WaveNet and SampleRNN synthesize realistic audio samples, voices, and music.
  • MusicVAE and MuseNet generate musical compositions with coherent structure.
  • Jukebox models generate music conditioned on genres, artists, lyrics.


  • GPT-2 and GPT-3 generate remarkably fluent and coherent text for a range of applications.
  • Poem and story generation models exhibit human-level creativity.

3D Models

  • 3D GANs like 3D-IWGAN produce novel 3D shapes and objects.
  • GANverse3D generates 3D animated humans with diverse motion.

In addition to consumer applications, generative models have proven useful for drug discovery, synthetic data generation, creative tools for artists, and more. The future looks bright for increasingly capable and multi-modal generative models.

Conclusion and Future Outlook

Generative deep learning provides a framework for modeling complex, high-dimensional data distributions. The book by David Foster takes the reader through the key methods and architectures propelling recent advances. Real-world applications demonstrate how generative models are teaching machines to paint, write, compose and more.

Active research and rapid progress will continue in generative deep learning. Some promising directions include:

  • Larger models with increased capacity
  • Multi-modal models that create correlated outputs across domains
  • Improved training techniques and evaluation metrics
  • Combining retrieval with generative modeling
  • Connections between generative learning and other AI capabilities

The future will likely see generative models become ubiquitous in content creation, synthetic data generation, drug discovery, and even as helpers for human creators and artists. This book provides a thorough introduction to the foundations empowering the next generation of creative AI systems. We’ve just begun exploring the potential of teaching machines to excel at tasks deeply rooted in human imagination.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the main architectures used in generative deep learning?

The main architectures include Generative Adversarial Networks (GANs), Variational Autoencoders (VAEs), autoregressive models like GPT-2, normalizing flows, energy-based models, and diffusion models. The book provides intuitive explanations and examples for each.

How is generative modeling different from discriminative modeling?

Discriminative models classify inputs into categories, while generative models learn the distribution of data in order to generate novel, realistic outputs. Generative models create new voices, artworks, molecules – going beyond categorization.

What are some example applications of generative deep learning?

Applications include generating art, music, text, 3D shapes, molecules and drugs, synthetic data, creative tools to help human artists, refining generated outputs, personalized content, and more. The book explores examples including DALL-E 2, AlphaFold, and GitHub Copilot.

What is the difference between VAEs and GANs?

VAEs learn an explicit latent space representation and reconstruction error objective. GANs use adversarial training – a generator trying to fool a discriminator that classifies outputs. VAEs optimize reconstruction, while GANs focus directly on generation quality.

How large do generative models need to be?

Many state-of-the-art generative models have hundreds of millions or billions of parameters. Large models capture intricate detail and high-dimensional dependencies in datasets like images, video, and text. But some newer methods can generate decent results with fewer parameters by leveraging architectural innovations.

Table summarizing key generative deep learning models:

GANGenerates images through adversarial training
VAELatent space model generates images from vector embeddings
PixelRNN/CNNAutoregressive models for image generation
WaveNetAutoregressive audio generation model
GPT-2/3Autoregressive text generation model
Normalizing FlowsGenerate data by transforming probability distributions
Diffusion ModelsReverse noise-based diffusion process to generate outputs