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Learning perturbation sets for robust machine learning

Eric Wong · Zico Kolter

Keywords: [ adversarial examples ] [ conditional variational autoencoder ] [ robust machine learning ] [ perturbation sets ]


Although much progress has been made towards robust deep learning, a significant gap in robustness remains between real-world perturbations and more narrowly defined sets typically studied in adversarial defenses. In this paper, we aim to bridge this gap by learning perturbation sets from data, in order to characterize real-world effects for robust training and evaluation. Specifically, we use a conditional generator that defines the perturbation set over a constrained region of the latent space. We formulate desirable properties that measure the quality of a learned perturbation set, and theoretically prove that a conditional variational autoencoder naturally satisfies these criteria. Using this framework, our approach can generate a variety of perturbations at different complexities and scales, ranging from baseline spatial transformations, through common image corruptions, to lighting variations. We measure the quality of our learned perturbation sets both quantitatively and qualitatively, finding that our models are capable of producing a diverse set of meaningful perturbations beyond the limited data seen during training. Finally, we leverage our learned perturbation sets to train models which are empirically and certifiably robust to adversarial image corruptions and adversarial lighting variations, while improving generalization on non-adversarial data. All code and configuration files for reproducing the experiments as well as pretrained model weights can be found at

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