Diffusion Models: AI Pioneers for Generating Quality Data

Diffusion Models
Table of Contents

Diffusion models seamlessly integrate fundamental principles from artificial intelligence (AI) and physics. Originating from examining how substances disperse or propagate through time and space, these models have forged a distinctive and influential presence within the AI domain.

Their remarkable effectiveness in deep generative AI models is especially notable, as they consistently exhibit exceptional performance across various applications. This impressive versatility and proficiency underscore their crucial role in advancing generative modeling capabilities across diverse domains.

In this article, we aim to explain the concept of diffusion models. Subsequently, we will explore their different classifications and examine their practical applications in the real world.

What are Diffusion Models?

Diffusion models, or diffusion probabilistic models, constitute a vital category within latent variable generative models extensively applied in machine learning.

At their core, diffusion models possess a distinctive capability – they can generate high-quality data by gradually introducing noise to a dataset. Following this introduction of noise, a subsequent learning phase is dedicated to reversing the introduced noise.

Innovative Methodology

This unique methodology empowers diffusion models to create highly accurate and detailed results, ranging from realistic images to coherent text sequences. The central concept driving their functionality is the intentional degradation of data quality, only to later reconstruct it to its original state or transform it into entirely new forms.

This approach significantly improves the accuracy of the generated data, unlocking novel possibilities in diverse domains. These domains include but are not limited to, autonomous vehicles, medical imaging, and personalized AI assistants.

Foundation for Understanding

Essentially, a diffusion model serves as a mechanism for understanding and predicting the dispersion or movement of entities over time. While the concept may seem abstract initially, it forms the foundation for various phenomena. 

Whether it’s the subtle diffusion of fragrance in a space or the propagation of rumors within a community, diffusion models find seamless application across different scenarios.

How Do Diffusion Models Work?

In the preliminary phase of employing diffusion models, meticulous attention is dedicated to data preprocessing. This entails scaling and centering procedures, with an emphasis on standardization.

How Do Diffusion Models Work

By transforming the data into a distribution with a mean of zero and a variance of one, we ensure optimal preparedness for subsequent transformations during diffusion. This strategic preparation proves instrumental in effectively managing noisy images and cultivating the generation of high-quality samples.

Let’s look more closely at how diffusion models work:

1. Forward Diffusion

A methodical approach characterizes the forward diffusion stage. Commencing with a sample sourced from a fundamental distribution, often adhering to Gaussian principles, the model systematically applies a sequence of invertible transformations. 

This progressive diffusion process incrementally converges the sample toward the targeted complex data points distribution. Each iterative step introduces heightened complexity to the data, capturing nuanced patterns reflective of the original distribution. 

Conceptually, this can be likened to the gradual infusion of Gaussian noise into the initial sample, culminating in the generation of diverse and realistic samples as the diffusion process unfolds.

2. Model Training

Training a diffusion model demands precision and rigor, involving the assimilation of parameters governing invertible transformations and other integral components of the model. 

This complex process begins with optimizing a meticulous loss function assessing the model’s efficacy in transforming samples. Specifically, this entails the conversion of samples from a simple distribution into manifestations closely resembling the complex data distribution. 

Referred to as score-based generative models, this nomenclature underscores the centrality of estimating the score function, or the log-likelihood gradient, in relation to the input data points.

While acknowledging the computational intensity of the training process, it’s imperative to highlight that advancements in optimization algorithms and hardware acceleration have rendered the diffusion models’ training feasible across diverse datasets.

3. Reverse Diffusion

The outcome of the diffusion narrative is captured in the reverse diffusion phase. After generating a sample in the forward diffusion process, this phase meticulously maps it back to the simple distribution through precise inverse transformations. 

This characteristic sets diffusion models apart from other generative models, such as generative adversarial networks (GANs).

The reverse diffusion process enables diffusion models to craft new data samples by initiating from a point within the simple distribution and systematically diffusing it to the desired complex data distribution. 

The resulting samples exhibit a profound resemblance to the original data distribution, solidifying them as a formidable asset for data completion, image synthesis, and denoising applications.

Diffusion Models vs Generative Adversarial Networks

Diffusion models and GANs diverge in their fundamental approach to the training and generation process. 

In the case of GANs, the generator moves from pure noise to an image in a single step, while diffusion models opt for an iterative refinement method.

This distinction imparts greater stability to diffusion models, making the training and generation processes more controlled and gradual. The controlled and deliberate progression of diffusion processes adds to their resilience, providing benefits over the comparatively instantaneous nature of GANs.

The singular model requirement for training and generation further sets diffusion models apart, contrasting the more complex architecture of GANs.

Video source: YouTube/Quick Tutorials

What are the Types of Diffusion Models?

Diffusion models operate within three key mathematical frameworks. These frameworks employ strategies involving introducing and removing noise to generate novel samples. 

Let’s explore each of them:

1. Denoising Diffusion Probabilistic Models (DDPMs)

DDPMs serve as generative models designed primarily for noise reduction in visual or audio data. Their utility spans applications such as enhancing image quality, restoring missing details, and reducing file sizes. For instance, the entertainment industry leverages advanced image and video processing techniques to create realistic backgrounds or scenes for movies, thereby elevating production quality.

Video source: Youtube/ExplainingAI

2. Noise-conditioned Score-Based Generative Models (SGMs)

SGMs conditioned by noise combine randomness with authentic data, refining it through calculated adjustments guided by a “score” tool. In conjunction with a “contrast” guide, this tool prioritizes real data over generated samples, rendering SGMs effective for creating and modifying images. In particular, they excel in generating lifelike images of familiar faces and enhancing healthcare data, an often scarce resource due to stringent regulations and industry standards.

3. Stochastic Differential Equations (SDEs)

SDEs represent mathematical models that aid in comprehending how random processes evolve over time. Widely used in fields such as finance and physics, where randomness plays a significant role, SDEs contribute to accurate predictions. In finance, for instance, SDEs can assist in forecasting commodity prices, like crude oil, by considering various factors that influence their value.

What are the Applications of ​​Diffusion Models?

The application of diffusion models exhibits extraordinary versatility and potential across multiple scenarios. This rapidly advancing technology is broadening its horizons, unlocking many possibilities. 

Here are some recent developments highlighting the diverse applications of this technology:

  • Image generation from scratch: Using a diffusion model with variational autoencoders (VAEs) and generative adversarial networks (GANs), the model learns from an extensive image dataset, filling a 116×16 grid with tokens to create unique synthetic images.
  • Conditional and inpainting image generation: Conditional image generation predicts subsequent pixels by using incomplete images as context. Similarly,  Inpainting fixes images by replacing unwanted parts with new pixels, and the model predicts discrete codes for high-resolution synthesis.
  • High-quality video generation: Seamless video frames are vital for top-notch quality. New frames are generated using diffusion models to fill gaps in low-quality videos, delivering smoother playback. Adding fresh frames upgrades low frames-per-second (FPS) videos to high FPS.
  • Text-to-image generation: Cutting-edge tools convert textual prompts, like “a bustling cityscape at dusk,” into images. The collaboration between the diffusion model and a large language model yields accurate depictions, occasionally achieving photorealistic outcomes.
  • Anomaly detection: Diffusion models identify deviations in datasets using probabilistic techniques, establishing a baseline for normal patterns. Applications include cybersecurity, fraud detection, predictive maintenance, and disease detection.
  • Neuroscience research: Diffusion models aid in studying brain processes and decision-making. Simulating cognitive processes with neural diffusion models provides insights, improving the diagnosis and treatment of neurological disorders.

5 Real-Life Examples of Diffusion Models

Diffusion models have become indispensable in the creative workflow, from crafting ambient soundtracks for independent video games to conceptualizing visuals for the film industry.

They prove invaluable in medical imaging by enhancing the clarity of low-resolution scans, thereby aiding in more accurate diagnoses. Fashion brands have ventured into the territory of diffusion models, leveraging their capacity to generate unique and visually appealing design patterns for apparel.

Among the notable real-life examples of diffusion models that have garnered widespread acclaim for their image generation capabilities are:


Developed by OpenAI, DALL-E 2 stands out for its ability to create highly detailed and imaginative images based on textual descriptions. Employing advanced diffusion techniques, this model has become a go-to tool in creative and artistic applications.

Stable Diffusion

Originating from the labs of Stability AI, Stable Diffusion is recognized for its efficiency in translating text prompts into realistic images. The distinctive feature of stable diffusion models, known as stable diffusion outpainting, allows for the expansion of images beyond their original borders.


Recently released and accessible via API, Midjourney is another noteworthy diffusion model designed for image generation from text prompts. Its latest version, Midjourney v6, has garnered considerable attention due to its improved ability to create sophisticated and imaginative images. Additionally, it adopts an unconventional distribution method by exclusively offering access through Discord.


Imagen, developed by Google, is a text-to-image diffusion model renowned for its photorealism and profound language understanding. It generates high-fidelity images by using large transformer language models for text encoding. Furthermore, it has been commended for its high FID score, indicating effectiveness in producing images aligned closely with human-rated quality and text-image coherence.

NAI Diffusion

The NovelAI Diffusion offers users a unique image generation experience, providing a creative tool to visualize limitless visions and narrate imaginative stories. Its key features include inpainting, image-to-image, and text-to-image generation.

What are the Limitations of Diffusion Models?

Despite their strengths, diffusion models come with distinct limitations compared to alternative generative models:

  1. Computational challenges – The computational demands of diffusion models exceed those of GANs, ascribed to the resource-intensive iterative diffusion process. Effective training needs substantial computational resources, prolonged training durations, and larger datasets.
  2. Sampling time disparity – The wall-clock time required for sampling from diffusion models is comparatively sluggish compared to GANs, attributed to the inclusion of multiple denoising steps. This characteristic may make diffusion models less ideal for real-time or near-real-time generation applications.
  3. Artifacts from noise – Due to the inherent nature of the diffusion process, generated samples are prone to undesirable noise artifacts.
  4. Potential for mode collapse – Similar to GANs, diffusion models may experience mode collapse, a scenario where the model generates a limited variety of samples.
  5. Hyperparameter precision – Attaining optimal performance with diffusion models demands careful hyperparameter tuning and extended training periods.
  6. Varied quality outcomes – The probabilistic nature of diffusion models results in diverse outcomes even with identical inputs, posing challenges in maintaining consistent quality.

Notwithstanding these constraints, diffusion models demonstrate significant promise in generative AI, especially in image and video synthesis. 

They provide precise control over the generation process and are renowned for their ability to generate high-quality images. However, like any tool, the selection of diffusion models should align with the task’s specific requirements and constraints.

Diffusion Models in AI: Key Takeaways

Diffusion models represent a cutting-edge fusion of AI and physics, excelling in generating high-quality data through intentional noise introduction and reversal. Their effectiveness in diverse applications, coupled with a controlled and gradual progression, sets them apart.

The types of diffusion models, from DDPMs to SDEs, showcase adaptability in noise reduction, forecasting, and neuroscience research. Real-life examples, like DALL-E 2 and Stable Diffusion models, underscore their impact in the creative, medical, and fashion domains.

Despite challenges like computational demands and varied quality outcomes, diffusion models promise a transformative role in generative AI. 

Optimization and hardware accelerate their training as technology advances, unlocking new possibilities. The journey with diffusion models remains dynamic, actively contributing to the ongoing evolution of AI within predefined task parameters.

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Neil Sahota
Neil Sahota (萨冠军) is an IBM Master Inventor, United Nations (UN) Artificial Intelligence (AI) Advisor, author of the best-seller Own the AI Revolution and sought-after speaker. With 20+ years of business experience, Neil works to inspire clients and business partners to foster innovation and develop next generation products/solutions powered by AI.