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Theoretical Analysis of Self-Training with Deep Networks on Unlabeled Data

Colin Wei · Kendrick Shen · Yining Chen · Tengyu Ma

Keywords: [ semi-supervised learning theory ] [ unsupervised learning theory ] [ domain adaptation theory ] [ deep learning theory ]


Self-training algorithms, which train a model to fit pseudolabels predicted by another previously-learned model, have been very successful for learning with unlabeled data using neural networks. However, the current theoretical understanding of self-training only applies to linear models. This work provides a unified theoretical analysis of self-training with deep networks for semi-supervised learning, unsupervised domain adaptation, and unsupervised learning. At the core of our analysis is a simple but realistic “expansion” assumption, which states that a low-probability subset of the data must expand to a neighborhood with large probability relative to the subset. We also assume that neighborhoods of examples in different classes have minimal overlap. We prove that under these assumptions, the minimizers of population objectives based on self-training and input-consistency regularization will achieve high accuracy with respect to ground-truth labels. By using off-the-shelf generalization bounds, we immediately convert this result to sample complexity guarantees for neural nets that are polynomial in the margin and Lipschitzness. Our results help explain the empirical successes of recently proposed self-training algorithms which use input consistency regularization.

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