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Oral Session 11

Moderators: Adriana Kovashka · Furong Huang · Guido Montufar


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Thu 6 May 11:00 - 11:15 PDT

VCNet and Functional Targeted Regularization For Learning Causal Effects of Continuous Treatments

Lizhen Nie · Mao Ye · Qiang Liu · Dan Nicolae

Motivated by the rising abundance of observational data with continuous treatments, we investigate the problem of estimating the average dose-response curve (ADRF). Available parametric methods are limited in their model space, and previous attempts in leveraging neural network to enhance model expressiveness relied on partitioning continuous treatment into blocks and using separate heads for each block; this however produces in practice discontinuous ADRFs. Therefore, the question of how to adapt the structure and training of neural network to estimate ADRFs remains open. This paper makes two important contributions. First, we propose a novel varying coefficient neural network (VCNet) that improves model expressiveness while preserving continuity of the estimated ADRF. Second, to improve finite sample performance, we generalize targeted regularization to obtain a doubly robust estimator of the whole ADRF curve.

Thu 6 May 11:15 - 11:30 PDT

SenSeI: Sensitive Set Invariance for Enforcing Individual Fairness

Mikhail Yurochkin · Yuekai Sun

In this paper, we cast fair machine learning as invariant machine learning. We first formulate a version of individual fairness that enforces invariance on certain sensitive sets. We then design a transport-based regularizer that enforces this version of individual fairness and develop an algorithm to minimize the regularizer efficiently. Our theoretical results guarantee the proposed approach trains certifiably fair ML models. Finally, in the experimental studies we demonstrate improved fairness metrics in comparison to several recent fair training procedures on three ML tasks that are susceptible to algorithmic bias.

Thu 6 May 11:30 - 11:45 PDT

When Do Curricula Work?

Xiaoxia (Shirley) Wu · Ethan Dyer · Behnam Neyshabur

Inspired by human learning, researchers have proposed ordering examples during training based on their difficulty. Both curriculum learning, exposing a network to easier examples early in training, and anti-curriculum learning, showing the most difficult examples first, have been suggested as improvements to the standard i.i.d. training. In this work, we set out to investigate the relative benefits of ordered learning. We first investigate the implicit curricula resulting from architectural and optimization bias and find that samples are learned in a highly consistent order. Next, to quantify the benefit of explicit curricula, we conduct extensive experiments over thousands of orderings spanning three kinds of learning: curriculum, anti-curriculum, and random-curriculum -- in which the size of the training dataset is dynamically increased over time, but the examples are randomly ordered. We find that for standard benchmark datasets, curricula have only marginal benefits, and that randomly ordered samples perform as well or better than curricula and anti-curricula, suggesting that any benefit is entirely due to the dynamic training set size. Inspired by common use cases of curriculum learning in practice, we investigate the role of limited training time budget and noisy data in the success of curriculum learning. Our experiments demonstrate that curriculum, but not anti-curriculum or random ordering can indeed improve the performance either with limited training time budget or in the existence of noisy data.

Thu 6 May 11:45 - 12:00 PDT

Why Are Convolutional Nets More Sample-Efficient than Fully-Connected Nets?

Zhiyuan Li · Yi Zhang · Sanjeev Arora

Convolutional neural networks often dominate fully-connected counterparts in generalization performance, especially on image classification tasks. This is often explained in terms of \textquotedblleft better inductive bias.\textquotedblright\ However, this has not been made mathematically rigorous, and the hurdle is that the sufficiently wide fully-connected net can always simulate the convolutional net. Thus the training algorithm plays a role. The current work describes a natural task on which a provable sample complexity gap can be shown, for standard training algorithms. We construct a single natural distribution on $\mathbb{R}^d\times\{\pm 1\}$ on which any orthogonal-invariant algorithm (i.e. fully-connected networks trained with most gradient-based methods from gaussian initialization) requires $\Omega(d^2)$ samples to generalize while $O(1)$ samples suffice for convolutional architectures. Furthermore, we demonstrate a single target function, learning which on all possible distributions leads to an $O(1)$ vs $\Omega(d^2/\varepsilon)$ gap. The proof relies on the fact that SGD on fully-connected network is orthogonal equivariant. Similar results are achieved for $\ell_2$ regression and adaptive training algorithms, e.g. Adam and AdaGrad, which are only permutation equivariant.

Thu 6 May 12:00 - 12:10 PDT


Thu 6 May 12:10 - 12:20 PDT

Correcting experience replay for multi-agent communication

Sanjeevan Ahilan · Peter Dayan

We consider the problem of learning to communicate using multi-agent reinforcement learning (MARL). A common approach is to learn off-policy, using data sampled from a replay buffer. However, messages received in the past may not accurately reflect the current communication policy of each agent, and this complicates learning. We therefore introduce a 'communication correction' which accounts for the non-stationarity of observed communication induced by multi-agent learning. It works by relabelling the received message to make it likely under the communicator's current policy, and thus be a better reflection of the receiver's current environment. To account for cases in which agents are both senders and receivers, we introduce an ordered relabelling scheme. Our correction is computationally efficient and can be integrated with a range of off-policy algorithms. We find in our experiments that it substantially improves the ability of communicating MARL systems to learn across a variety of cooperative and competitive tasks.

Thu 6 May 12:20 - 12:30 PDT

Contrastive Behavioral Similarity Embeddings for Generalization in Reinforcement Learning

Rishabh Agarwal · Marlos C. Machado · Pablo Samuel Castro · Marc G Bellemare

Reinforcement learning methods trained on few environments rarely learn policies that generalize to unseen environments. To improve generalization, we incorporate the inherent sequential structure in reinforcement learning into the representation learning process. This approach is orthogonal to recent approaches, which rarely exploit this structure explicitly. Specifically, we introduce a theoretically motivated policy similarity metric (PSM) for measuring behavioral similarity between states. PSM assigns high similarity to states for which the optimal policies in those states as well as in future states are similar. We also present a contrastive representation learning procedure to embed any state similarity metric, which we instantiate with PSM to obtain policy similarity embeddings (PSEs). We demonstrate that PSEs improve generalization on diverse benchmarks, including LQR with spurious correlations, a jumping task from pixels, and Distracting DM Control Suite.

Thu 6 May 12:30 - 12:40 PDT

DeepAveragers: Offline Reinforcement Learning By Solving Derived Non-Parametric MDPs

aayam shrestha · Stefan Lee · Prasad Tadepalli · Alan Fern

We study an approach to offline reinforcement learning (RL) based on optimally solving finitely-represented MDPs derived from a static dataset of experience. This approach can be applied on top of any learned representation and has the potential to easily support multiple solution objectives as well as zero-shot adjustment to changing environments and goals. Our main contribution is to introduce the Deep Averagers with Costs MDP (DAC-MDP) and to investigate its solutions for offline RL. DAC-MDPs are a non-parametric model that can leverage deep representations and account for limited data by introducing costs for exploiting under-represented parts of the model. In theory, we show conditions that allow for lower-bounding the performance of DAC-MDP solutions. We also investigate the empirical behavior in a number of environments, including those with image-based observations. Overall, the experiments demonstrate that the framework can work in practice and scale to large complex offline RL problems.

Thu 6 May 12:40 - 12:50 PDT

Data-Efficient Reinforcement Learning with Self-Predictive Representations

Max Schwarzer · Ankesh Anand · Rishab Goel · R Devon Hjelm · Aaron Courville · Philip Bachman

While deep reinforcement learning excels at solving tasks where large amounts of data can be collected through virtually unlimited interaction with the environment, learning from limited interaction remains a key challenge. We posit that an agent can learn more efficiently if we augment reward maximization with self-supervised objectives based on structure in its visual input and sequential interaction with the environment. Our method, Self-Predictive Representations (SPR), trains an agent to predict its own latent state representations multiple steps into the future. We compute target representations for future states using an encoder which is an exponential moving average of the agent’s parameters and we make predictions using a learned transition model. On its own, this future prediction objective outperforms prior methods for sample-efficient deep RL from pixels. We further improve performance by adding data augmentation to the future prediction loss, which forces the agent’s representations to be consistent across multiple views of an observation. Our full self-supervised objective, which combines future prediction and data augmentation, achieves a median human-normalized score of 0.415 on Atari in a setting limited to 100k steps of environment interaction, which represents a 55% relative improvement over the previous state-of-the-art. Notably, even in this limited data regime, SPR exceeds expert human scores on 7 out of 26 games. We’ve made the code associated with this work available at

Thu 6 May 12:50 - 13:00 PDT


Thu 6 May 13:00 - 13:15 PDT

DiffWave: A Versatile Diffusion Model for Audio Synthesis

Zhifeng Kong · Wei Ping · Jiaji Huang · Kexin Zhao · Bryan Catanzaro

In this work, we propose DiffWave, a versatile diffusion probabilistic model for conditional and unconditional waveform generation. The model is non-autoregressive, and converts the white noise signal into structured waveform through a Markov chain with a constant number of steps at synthesis. It is efficiently trained by optimizing a variant of variational bound on the data likelihood. DiffWave produces high-fidelity audios in different waveform generation tasks, including neural vocoding conditioned on mel spectrogram, class-conditional generation, and unconditional generation. We demonstrate that DiffWave matches a strong WaveNet vocoder in terms of speech quality (MOS: 4.44 versus 4.43), while synthesizing orders of magnitude faster. In particular, it significantly outperforms autoregressive and GAN-based waveform models in the challenging unconditional generation task in terms of audio quality and sample diversity from various automatic and human evaluations.

Thu 6 May 13:15 - 13:30 PDT

Self-training For Few-shot Transfer Across Extreme Task Differences

Cheng Perng Phoo · Bharath Hariharan

Most few-shot learning techniques are pre-trained on a large, labeled “base dataset”. In problem domains where such large labeled datasets are not available for pre-training (e.g., X-ray, satellite images), one must resort to pre-training in a different “source” problem domain (e.g., ImageNet), which can be very different from the desired target task. Traditional few-shot and transfer learning techniques fail in the presence of such extreme differences between the source and target tasks. In this paper, we present a simple and effective solution to tackle this extreme domain gap: self-training a source domain representation on unlabeled data from the target domain. We show that this improves one-shot performance on the target domain by 2.9 points on average on the challenging BSCD-FSL benchmark consisting of datasets from multiple domains.

Thu 6 May 13:30 - 13:40 PDT

A Panda? No, It's a Sloth: Slowdown Attacks on Adaptive Multi-Exit Neural Network Inference

Sanghyun Hong · Yigitcan Kaya · Ionut-Vlad Modoranu · Tudor Dumitras

Recent increases in the computational demands of deep neural networks (DNNs), combined with the observation that most input samples require only simple models, have sparked interest in input-adaptive multi-exit architectures, such as MSDNets or Shallow-Deep Networks. These architectures enable faster inferences and could bring DNNs to low-power devices, e.g., in the Internet of Things (IoT). However, it is unknown if the computational savings provided by this approach are robust against adversarial pressure. In particular, an adversary may aim to slowdown adaptive DNNs by increasing their average inference time—a threat analogous to the denial-of-service attacks from the Internet. In this paper, we conduct a systematic evaluation of this threat by experimenting with three generic multi-exit DNNs (based on VGG16, MobileNet, and ResNet56) and a custom multi-exit architecture, on two popular image classification benchmarks (CIFAR-10 and Tiny ImageNet). To this end, we show that adversarial example-crafting techniques can be modified to cause slowdown, and we propose a metric for comparing their impact on different architectures. We show that a slowdown attack reduces the efficacy of multi-exit DNNs by 90–100%, and it amplifies the latency by 1.5–5× in a typical IoT deployment. We also show that it is possible to craft universal, reusable perturbations and that the attack can be effective in realistic black-box scenarios, where the attacker has limited knowledge about the victim. Finally, we show that adversarial training provides limited protection against slowdowns. These results suggest that further research is needed for defending multi-exit architectures against this emerging threat. Our code is available at

Thu 6 May 13:40 - 13:50 PDT

BUSTLE: Bottom-Up Program Synthesis Through Learning-Guided Exploration

Augustus Odena · Kensen Shi · David Bieber · Rishabh Singh · Charles Sutton · Hanjun Dai

Program synthesis is challenging largely because of the difficulty of search in a large space of programs. Human programmers routinely tackle the task of writing complex programs by writing sub-programs and then analyzing their intermediate results to compose them in appropriate ways. Motivated by this intuition, we present a new synthesis approach that leverages learning to guide a bottom-up search over programs. In particular, we train a model to prioritize compositions of intermediate values during search conditioned on a given set of input-output examples. This is a powerful combination because of several emergent properties. First, in bottom-up search, intermediate programs can be executed, providing semantic information to the neural network. Second, given the concrete values from those executions, we can exploit rich features based on recent work on property signatures. Finally, bottom-up search allows the system substantial flexibility in what order to generate the solution, allowing the synthesizer to build up a program from multiple smaller sub-programs. Overall, our empirical evaluation finds that the combination of learning and bottom-up search is remarkably effective, even with simple supervised learning approaches. We demonstrate the effectiveness of our technique on two datasets, one from the SyGuS competition and one of our own creation.

Thu 6 May 13:50 - 14:00 PDT

Disentangled Recurrent Wasserstein Autoencoder

Jun Han · Martin Min · Ligong Han · Erran Li · Xuan Zhang

Learning disentangled representations leads to interpretable models and facilitates data generation with style transfer, which has been extensively studied on static data such as images in an unsupervised learning framework. However, only a few works have explored unsupervised disentangled sequential representation learning due to challenges of generating sequential data. In this paper, we propose recurrent Wasserstein Autoencoder (R-WAE), a new framework for generative modeling of sequential data. R-WAE disentangles the representation of an input sequence into static and dynamic factors (i.e., time-invariant and time-varying parts). Our theoretical analysis shows that, R-WAE minimizes an upper bound of a penalized form of the Wasserstein distance between model distribution and sequential data distribution, and simultaneously maximizes the mutual information between input data and different disentangled latent factors, respectively. This is superior to (recurrent) VAE which does not explicitly enforce mutual information maximization between input data and disentangled latent representations. When the number of actions in sequential data is available as weak supervision information, R-WAE is extended to learn a categorical latent representation of actions to improve its disentanglement. Experiments on a variety of datasets show that our models outperform other baselines with the same settings in terms of disentanglement and unconditional video generation both quantitatively and qualitatively.

Thu 6 May 14:00 - 14:13 PDT