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Oral Session 3

Moderators: Manzil Zaheer · Lin Yang · Liang Zhao


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Mon 3 May 19:00 - 19:15 PDT

SMiRL: Surprise Minimizing Reinforcement Learning in Unstable Environments

Glen Berseth · Daniel Geng · Coline M Devin · Nicholas Rhinehart · Chelsea Finn · Dinesh Jayaraman · Sergey Levine

Every living organism struggles against disruptive environmental forces to carve out and maintain an orderly niche. We propose that such a struggle to achieve and preserve order might offer a principle for the emergence of useful behaviors in artificial agents. We formalize this idea into an unsupervised reinforcement learning method called surprise minimizing reinforcement learning (SMiRL). SMiRL alternates between learning a density model to evaluate the surprise of a stimulus, and improving the policy to seek more predictable stimuli. The policy seeks out stable and repeatable situations that counteract the environment's prevailing sources of entropy. This might include avoiding other hostile agents, or finding a stable, balanced pose for a bipedal robot in the face of disturbance forces. We demonstrate that our surprise minimizing agents can successfully play Tetris, Doom, control a humanoid to avoid falls, and navigate to escape enemies in a maze without any task-specific reward supervision. We further show that SMiRL can be used together with standard task rewards to accelerate reward-driven learning.

Mon 3 May 19:15 - 19:30 PDT

Contrastive Explanations for Reinforcement Learning via Embedded Self Predictions

Zhengxian Lin · Kin-Ho Lam · Alan Fern

We investigate a deep reinforcement learning (RL) architecture that supports explaining why a learned agent prefers one action over another. The key idea is to learn action-values that are directly represented via human-understandable properties of expected futures. This is realized via the embedded self-prediction (ESP) model, which learns said properties in terms of human provided features. Action preferences can then be explained by contrasting the future properties predicted for each action. To address cases where there are a large number of features, we develop a novel method for computing minimal sufficient explanations from an ESP. Our case studies in three domains, including a complex strategy game, show that ESP models can be effectively learned and support insightful explanations.

Mon 3 May 19:30 - 19:45 PDT

Parrot: Data-Driven Behavioral Priors for Reinforcement Learning

Avi Singh · Huihan Liu · Gaoyue Zhou · Albert Yu · Nicholas Rhinehart · Sergey Levine

Reinforcement learning provides a general framework for flexible decision making and control, but requires extensive data collection for each new task that an agent needs to learn. In other machine learning fields, such as natural language processing or computer vision, pre-training on large, previously collected datasets to bootstrap learning for new tasks has emerged as a powerful paradigm to reduce data requirements when learning a new task. In this paper, we ask the following question: how can we enable similarly useful pre-training for RL agents? We propose a method for pre-training behavioral priors that can capture complex input-output relationships observed in successful trials from a wide range of previously seen tasks, and we show how this learned prior can be used for rapidly learning new tasks without impeding the RL agent's ability to try out novel behaviors. We demonstrate the effectiveness of our approach in challenging robotic manipulation domains involving image observations and sparse reward functions, where our method outperforms prior works by a substantial margin. Additional materials can be found on our project website:

Mon 3 May 19:45 - 19:55 PDT

Structured Prediction as Translation between Augmented Natural Languages

Giovanni Paolini · Ben Athiwaratkun · Jason Krone · Jie Ma · Alessandro Achille · RISHITA ANUBHAI · Cicero Nogueira dos Santos · Bing Xiang · Stefano Soatto

We propose a new framework, Translation between Augmented Natural Languages (TANL), to solve many structured prediction language tasks including joint entity and relation extraction, nested named entity recognition, relation classification, semantic role labeling, event extraction, coreference resolution, and dialogue state tracking. Instead of tackling the problem by training task-specific discriminative classifiers, we frame it as a translation task between augmented natural languages, from which the task-relevant information can be easily extracted. Our approach can match or outperform task-specific models on all tasks, and in particular achieves new state-of-the-art results on joint entity and relation extraction (CoNLL04, ADE, NYT, and ACE2005 datasets), relation classification (FewRel and TACRED), and semantic role labeling (CoNLL-2005 and CoNLL-2012). We accomplish this while using the same architecture and hyperparameters for all tasks, and even when training a single model to solve all tasks at the same time (multi-task learning). Finally, we show that our framework can also significantly improve the performance in a low-resource regime, thanks to better use of label semantics.

Mon 3 May 19:55 - 20:05 PDT

Mathematical Reasoning via Self-supervised Skip-tree Training

Markus Rabe · Dennis Lee · Kshitij Bansal · Christian Szegedy

We demonstrate that self-supervised language modeling applied to mathematical formulas enables logical reasoning. To measure the logical reasoning abilities of language models, we formulate several evaluation (downstream) tasks, such as inferring types, suggesting missing assumptions and completing equalities. For training language models for formal mathematics, we propose a novel skip-tree task. We find that models trained on the skip-tree task show surprisingly strong mathematical reasoning abilities, and outperform models trained on standard skip-sequence tasks. We also analyze the models' ability to formulate new conjectures by measuring how often the predictions are provable and useful in other proofs.

Mon 3 May 20:05 - 20:18 PDT


Mon 3 May 20:18 - 20:28 PDT

Improving Adversarial Robustness via Channel-wise Activation Suppressing

Yang Bai · Yuyuan Zeng · Yong Jiang · Shu-Tao Xia · Xingjun Ma · Yisen Wang

The study of adversarial examples and their activations have attracted significant attention for secure and robust learning with deep neural networks (DNNs). Different from existing works, in this paper, we highlight two new characteristics of adversarial examples from the channel-wise activation perspective: 1) the activation magnitudes of adversarial examples are higher than that of natural examples; and 2) the channels are activated more uniformly by adversarial examples than natural examples. We find that, while the state-of-the-art defense adversarial training has addressed the first issue of high activation magnitude via training on adversarial examples, the second issue of uniform activation remains. This motivates us to suppress redundant activations from being activated by adversarial perturbations during the adversarial training process, via a Channel-wise Activation Suppressing (CAS) training strategy. We show that CAS can train a model that inherently suppresses adversarial activations, and can be easily applied to existing defense methods to further improve their robustness. Our work provides a simplebut generic training strategy for robustifying the intermediate layer activations of DNNs.

Mon 3 May 20:28 - 20:38 PDT

Fast Geometric Projections for Local Robustness Certification

Aymeric Fromherz · Klas Leino · Matt Fredrikson · Bryan Parno · Corina Pasareanu

Local robustness ensures that a model classifies all inputs within an $\ell_p$-ball consistently, which precludes various forms of adversarial inputs. In this paper, we present a fast procedure for checking local robustness in feed-forward neural networks with piecewise-linear activation functions. Such networks partition the input space into a set of convex polyhedral regions in which the network’s behavior is linear; hence, a systematic search for decision boundaries within the regions around a given input is sufficient for assessing robustness. Crucially, we show how the regions around a point can be analyzed using simple geometric projections, thus admitting an efficient, highly-parallel GPU implementation that excels particularly for the $\ell_2$ norm, where previous work has been less effective. Empirically we find this approach to be far more precise than many approximate verification approaches, while at the same time performing multiple orders of magnitude faster than complete verifiers, and scaling to much deeper networks.

Mon 3 May 20:38 - 20:48 PDT

Information Laundering for Model Privacy

Xinran Wang · Yu Xiang · Jun Gao · Jie Ding

In this work, we propose information laundering, a novel framework for enhancing model privacy. Unlike data privacy that concerns the protection of raw data information, model privacy aims to protect an already-learned model that is to be deployed for public use. The private model can be obtained from general learning methods, and its deployment means that it will return a deterministic or random response for a given input query. An information-laundered model consists of probabilistic components that deliberately maneuver the intended input and output for queries of the model, so the model's adversarial acquisition is less likely. Under the proposed framework, we develop an information-theoretic principle to quantify the fundamental tradeoffs between model utility and privacy leakage and derive the optimal design.

Mon 3 May 20:48 - 20:58 PDT

Dataset Inference: Ownership Resolution in Machine Learning

Pratyush Maini · Mohammad Yaghini · Nicolas Papernot

With increasingly more data and computation involved in their training, machine learning models constitute valuable intellectual property. This has spurred interest in model stealing, which is made more practical by advances in learning with partial, little, or no supervision. Existing defenses focus on inserting unique watermarks in a model's decision surface, but this is insufficient: the watermarks are not sampled from the training distribution and thus are not always preserved during model stealing. In this paper, we make the key observation that knowledge contained in the stolen model's training set is what is common to all stolen copies. The adversary's goal, irrespective of the attack employed, is always to extract this knowledge or its by-products. This gives the original model's owner a strong advantage over the adversary: model owners have access to the original training data. We thus introduce $\textit{dataset inference}$, the process of identifying whether a suspected model copy has private knowledge from the original model's dataset, as a defense against model stealing. We develop an approach for dataset inference that combines statistical testing with the ability to estimate the distance of multiple data points to the decision boundary. Our experiments on CIFAR10, SVHN, CIFAR100 and ImageNet show that model owners can claim with confidence greater than 99% that their model (or dataset as a matter of fact) was stolen, despite only exposing 50 of the stolen model's training points. Dataset inference defends against state-of-the-art attacks even when the adversary is adaptive. Unlike prior work, it does not require retraining or overfitting the defended model.

Mon 3 May 20:58 - 21:08 PDT

HW-NAS-Bench: Hardware-Aware Neural Architecture Search Benchmark

Chaojian Li · Zhongzhi Yu · Yonggan Fu · Yongan Zhang · Yang Zhao · Haoran You · Qixuan Yu · Yue Wang · Cong Hao · Yingyan Lin

HardWare-aware Neural Architecture Search (HW-NAS) has recently gained tremendous attention by automating the design of deep neural networks deployed in more resource-constrained daily life devices. Despite its promising performance, developing optimal HW-NAS solutions can be prohibitively challenging as it requires cross-disciplinary knowledge in the algorithm, micro-architecture, and device-specific compilation. First, to determine the hardware-cost to be incorporated into the NAS process, existing works mostly adopt either pre-collected hardware-cost look-up tables or device-specific hardware-cost models. The former can be time-consuming due to the required knowledge of the device’s compilation method and how to set up the measurement pipeline, while building the latter is often a barrier for non-hardware experts like NAS researchers. Both of them limit the development of HW-NAS innovations and impose a barrier-to-entry to non-hardware experts. Second, similar to generic NAS, it can be notoriously difficult to benchmark HW-NAS algorithms due to their significant required computational resources and the differences in adopted search spaces, hyperparameters, and hardware devices. To this end, we develop HW-NAS-Bench, the first public dataset for HW-NAS research which aims to democratize HW-NAS research to non-hardware experts and make HW-NAS research more reproducible and accessible. To design HW-NAS-Bench, we carefully collected the measured/estimated hardware performance (e.g., energy cost and latency) of all the networks in the search spaces of both NAS-Bench-201 and FBNet, on six hardware devices that fall into three categories (i.e., commercial edge devices, FPGA, and ASIC). Furthermore, we provide a comprehensive analysis of the collected measurements in HW-NAS-Bench to provide insights for HW-NAS research. Finally, we demonstrate exemplary user cases to (1) show that HW-NAS-Bench allows non-hardware experts to perform HW-NAS by simply querying our pre-measured dataset and (2) verify that dedicated device-specific HW-NAS can indeed lead to optimal accuracy-cost trade-offs. The codes and all collected data are available at

Mon 3 May 21:08 - 21:21 PDT


Mon 3 May 21:21 - 21:36 PDT

How Neural Networks Extrapolate: From Feedforward to Graph Neural Networks

Keyulu Xu · Mozhi Zhang · Jingling Li · Simon Du · Ken-Ichi Kawarabayashi · Stefanie Jegelka

We study how neural networks trained by gradient descent extrapolate, i.e., what they learn outside the support of the training distribution. Previous works report mixed empirical results when extrapolating with neural networks: while feedforward neural networks, a.k.a. multilayer perceptrons (MLPs), do not extrapolate well in certain simple tasks, Graph Neural Networks (GNNs) -- structured networks with MLP modules -- have shown some success in more complex tasks. Working towards a theoretical explanation, we identify conditions under which MLPs and GNNs extrapolate well. First, we quantify the observation that ReLU MLPs quickly converge to linear functions along any direction from the origin, which implies that ReLU MLPs do not extrapolate most nonlinear functions. But, they can provably learn a linear target function when the training distribution is sufficiently diverse. Second, in connection to analyzing the successes and limitations of GNNs, these results suggest a hypothesis for which we provide theoretical and empirical evidence: the success of GNNs in extrapolating algorithmic tasks to new data (e.g., larger graphs or edge weights) relies on encoding task-specific non-linearities in the architecture or features. Our theoretical analysis builds on a connection of over-parameterized networks to the neural tangent kernel. Empirically, our theory holds across different training settings.

Mon 3 May 21:36 - 21:46 PDT

Graph Convolution with Low-rank Learnable Local Filters

Xiuyuan Cheng · Zichen Miao · Qiang Qiu

Geometric variations like rotation, scaling, and viewpoint changes pose a significant challenge to visual understanding. One common solution is to directly model certain intrinsic structures, e.g., using landmarks. However, it then becomes non-trivial to build effective deep models, especially when the underlying non-Euclidean grid is irregular and coarse. Recent deep models using graph convolutions provide an appropriate framework to handle such non-Euclidean data, but many of them, particularly those based on global graph Laplacians, lack expressiveness to capture local features required for representation of signals lying on the non-Euclidean grid. The current paper introduces a new type of graph convolution with learnable low-rank local filters, which is provably more expressive than previous spectral graph convolution methods. The model also provides a unified framework for both spectral and spatial graph convolutions. To improve model robustness, regularization by local graph Laplacians is introduced. The representation stability against input graph data perturbation is theoretically proved, making use of the graph filter locality and the local graph regularization. Experiments on spherical mesh data, real-world facial expression recognition/skeleton-based action recognition data, and data with simulated graph noise show the empirical advantage of the proposed model.

Mon 3 May 21:46 - 21:56 PDT

The Traveling Observer Model: Multi-task Learning Through Spatial Variable Embeddings

Elliot Meyerson · Risto Miikkulainen

This paper frames a general prediction system as an observer traveling around a continuous space, measuring values at some locations, and predicting them at others. The observer is completely agnostic about any particular task being solved; it cares only about measurement locations and their values. This perspective leads to a machine learning framework in which seemingly unrelated tasks can be solved by a single model, by embedding their input and output variables into a shared space. An implementation of the framework is developed in which these variable embeddings are learned jointly with internal model parameters. In experiments, the approach is shown to (1) recover intuitive locations of variables in space and time, (2) exploit regularities across related datasets with completely disjoint input and output spaces, and (3) exploit regularities across seemingly unrelated tasks, outperforming task-specific single-task models and multi-task learning alternatives. The results suggest that even seemingly unrelated tasks may originate from similar underlying processes, a fact that the traveling observer model can use to make better predictions.

Mon 3 May 21:56 - 22:06 PDT

Meta-GMVAE: Mixture of Gaussian VAE for Unsupervised Meta-Learning

Dong Bok Lee · Dongchan Min · Seanie Lee · Sung Ju Hwang

Unsupervised learning aims to learn meaningful representations from unlabeled data which can captures its intrinsic structure, that can be transferred to downstream tasks. Meta-learning, whose objective is to learn to generalize across tasks such that the learned model can rapidly adapt to a novel task, shares the spirit of unsupervised learning in that the both seek to learn more effective and efficient learning procedure than learning from scratch. The fundamental difference of the two is that the most meta-learning approaches are supervised, assuming full access to the labels. However, acquiring labeled dataset for meta-training not only is costly as it requires human efforts in labeling but also limits its applications to pre-defined task distributions. In this paper, we propose a principled unsupervised meta-learning model, namely Meta-GMVAE, based on Variational Autoencoder (VAE) and set-level variational inference. Moreover, we introduce a mixture of Gaussian (GMM) prior, assuming that each modality represents each class-concept in a randomly sampled episode, which we optimize with Expectation-Maximization (EM). Then, the learned model can be used for downstream few-shot classification tasks, where we obtain task-specific parameters by performing semi-supervised EM on the latent representations of the support and query set, and predict labels of the query set by computing aggregated posteriors. We validate our model on Omniglot and Mini-ImageNet datasets by evaluating its performance on downstream few-shot classification tasks. The results show that our model obtain impressive performance gains over existing unsupervised meta-learning baselines, even outperforming supervised MAML on a certain setting.

Mon 3 May 22:06 - 22:16 PDT