One of the key components of an autoencoder is a reconstruction error. This term measures how much useful information is compressed into a learned latent vector. The common reconstruction error is based on an element-wise measurement such as a binary cross entropy for a black-and-white image or a square error between a reconstructed image and the input image.
The authors think that an element-wise measurement is not an accurate indicator of goodness of a learned latent vector. Hence, they proposed to learn a similar metric via an adversarial training. Here is how they set up the objective functions:
They use VAE to learn a latent vector of the input image. There are two loss functions in a vanilla VAE: a KL loss and a negative log data-likelihood. They replace the second loss with a new reconstruction loss function. We will talk about this new loss function in the next paragraph. Then, they have a discriminator that tries to distinguish the real input data from the generated data from the decoder of VAE. The discriminator will encourage the VAE to learn stronger encoder and decoder.
The discriminator can be decomposed into 2 parts. If it has L + 1 layers, then the first L layers is a transform function that maps the input data into a new representation. The last layer is a binary classifier. This means that if we input any input through the first L layer, we will get a new representation that is easily classified by the last layer of the discriminator. When the discriminator is very good at detecting the real input, the representation at L layer is going to be much easier to classify compared to the input data. It means that a square error between a transformed input and its transformed reconstruction input should be somewhat small when these inputs are similar.
This model has trained the same fashion as GANs; simultaneously train VAE and GANs. This idea works well for an image because the square-error is not a good metric for an image quality. This idea may work on text dataset as well because we assess the quality of the reconstructed texts based on the whole input but not collectively evaluate one word at a time.