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Oral 3: Meta-learning and adaptation

Moderators: Boqing Gong · Deepak Pathak · Tongliang Liu

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Wed 27 April 9:00 - 9:15 PDT

Outstanding Paper
Bootstrapped Meta-Learning

Sebastian Flennerhag · Yannick Schroecker · Tom Zahavy · Hado van Hasselt · David Silver · Satinder Singh

Meta-learning empowers artificial intelligence to increase its efficiency by learning how to learn. Unlocking this potential involves overcoming a challenging meta-optimisation problem. We propose an algorithm that tackles this problem by letting the meta-learner teach itself. The algorithm first bootstraps a target from the meta-learner, then optimises the meta-learner by minimising the distance to that target under a chosen (pseudo-)metric. Focusing on meta-learning with gradients, we establish conditions that guarantee performance improvements and show that metric can be used to control meta-optimisation. Meanwhile, the bootstrapping mechanism can extend the effective meta-learning horizon without requiring backpropagation through all updates. We achieve a new state-of-the art for model-free agents on the Atari ALE benchmark and demonstrate that it yields both performance and efficiency gains in multi-task meta-learning. Finally, we explore how bootstrapping opens up new possibilities and find that it can meta-learn efficient exploration in an epsilon-greedy Q-learning agent - without backpropagating through the update rule.

Wed 27 April 9:15 - 9:30 PDT

Coordination Among Neural Modules Through a Shared Global Workspace

Anirudh Goyal · Aniket Didolkar · Alex Lamb · Kartikeya Badola · Nan Rosemary Ke · Nasim Rahaman · Jonathan Binas · Charles Blundell · Michael Mozer · Yoshua Bengio

Deep learning has seen a movement away from representing examples with a monolithic hidden state towards a richly structured state. For example, Transformers segment by position, and object-centric architectures decompose images into entities. In all these architectures, interactions between different elements are modeled via pairwise interactions: Transformers make use of self-attention to incorporate information from other positions and object-centric architectures make use of graph neural networks to model interactions among entities. We consider how to improve on pairwise interactions in terms of global coordination and a coherent, integrated representation that can be used for downstream tasks. In cognitive science, a global workspace architecture has been proposed in which functionally specialized components share information through a common, bandwidth-limited communication channel. We explore the use of such a communication channel in the context of deep learning for modeling the structure of complex environments. The proposed method includes a shared workspace through which communication among different specialist modules takes place but due to limits on the communication bandwidth, specialist modules must compete for access. We show that capacity limitations have a rational basis in that (1) they encourage specialization and compositionality and (2) they facilitate the synchronization of otherwise independent specialists.

Wed 27 April 9:30 - 9:45 PDT

Meta-Learning with Fewer Tasks through Task Interpolation

Huaxiu Yao · Linjun Zhang · Chelsea Finn

Meta-learning enables algorithms to quickly learn a newly encountered task with just a few labeled examples by transferring previously learned knowledge. However, the bottleneck of current meta-learning algorithms is the requirement of a large number of meta-training tasks, which may not be accessible in real-world scenarios. To address the challenge that available tasks may not densely sample the space of tasks, we propose to augment the task set through interpolation. By meta-learning with task interpolation (MLTI), our approach effectively generates additional tasks by randomly sampling a pair of tasks and interpolating the corresponding features and labels. Under both gradient-based and metric-based meta-learning settings, our theoretical analysis shows MLTI corresponds to a data-adaptive meta-regularization and further improves the generalization. Empirically, in our experiments on eight datasets from diverse domains including image recognition, pose prediction, molecule property prediction, and medical image classification, we find that the proposed general MLTI framework is compatible with representative meta-learning algorithms and consistently outperforms other state-of-the-art strategies.

Wed 27 April 9:45 - 10:00 PDT

Weighted Training for Cross-Task Learning

Shuxiao Chen · Koby Crammer · Hangfeng He · Dan Roth · Weijie J Su

In this paper, we introduce Target-Aware Weighted Training (TAWT), a weighted training algorithm for cross-task learning based on minimizing a representation-based task distance between the source and target tasks. We show that TAWT is easy to implement, is computationally efficient, requires little hyperparameter tuning, and enjoys non-asymptotic learning-theoretic guarantees. The effectiveness of TAWT is corroborated through extensive experiments with BERT on four sequence tagging tasks in natural language processing (NLP), including part-of-speech (PoS) tagging, chunking, predicate detection, and named entity recognition (NER). As a byproduct, the proposed representation-based task distance allows one to reason in a theoretically principled way about several critical aspects of cross-task learning, such as the choice of the source data and the impact of fine-tuning.

Wed 27 April 10:00 - 10:15 PDT

Domino: Discovering Systematic Errors with Cross-Modal Embeddings

Sabri Eyuboglu · Maya Varma · Khaled Saab · Jean-Benoit Delbrouck · Christopher Lee-Messer · Jared Dunnmon · James Y Zou · Christopher Re

Machine learning models that achieve high overall accuracy often make systematic errors on important subsets (or slices) of data. Identifying underperforming slices is particularly challenging when working with high-dimensional inputs (e.g. images, audio), where important slices are often unlabeled. In order to address this issue, recent studies have proposed automated slice discovery methods (SDMs), which leverage learned model representations to mine input data for slices on which a model performs poorly. To be useful to a practitioner, these methods must identify slices that are both underperforming and coherent (i.e. united by a human-understandable concept). However, no quantitative evaluation framework currently exists for rigorously assessing SDMs with respect to these criteria. Additionally, prior qualitative evaluations have shown that SDMs often identify slices that are incoherent. In this work, we address these challenges by first designing a principled evaluation framework that enables a quantitative comparison of SDMs across 1,235 slice discovery settings in three input domains (natural images, medical images, and time-series data).Then, motivated by the recent development of powerful cross-modal representation learning approaches, we present Domino, an SDM that leverages cross-modal embeddings and a novel error-aware mixture model to discover and describe coherent slices. We find that Domino accurately identifies 36% of the 1,235 slices in our framework -- a 12 percentage point improvement over prior methods. Further, Domino is the first SDM that can provide natural language descriptions of identified slices, correctly generating the exact name of the slice in 35% of settings.

Wed 27 April 10:15 - 10:30 PDT

Extending the WILDS Benchmark for Unsupervised Adaptation

Shiori Sagawa · Pang Wei Koh · Tony Lee · Irena Gao · Sang Michael Xie · Kendrick Shen · Ananya Kumar · Weihua Hu · Michihiro Yasunaga · Henrik Marklund · Sara Beery · Etienne David · Ian Stavness · Wei Guo · Jure Leskovec · Kate Saenko · Tatsunori Hashimoto · Sergey Levine · Chelsea Finn · Percy Liang

Machine learning systems deployed in the wild are often trained on a source distribution but deployed on a different target distribution. Unlabeled data can be a powerful point of leverage for mitigating these distribution shifts, as it is frequently much more available than labeled data and can often be obtained from distributions beyond the source distribution as well. However, existing distribution shift benchmarks with unlabeled data do not reflect the breadth of scenarios that arise in real-world applications. In this work, we present the WILDS 2.0 update, which extends 8 of the 10 datasets in the WILDS benchmark of distribution shifts to include curated unlabeled data that would be realistically obtainable in deployment. These datasets span a wide range of applications (from histology to wildlife conservation), tasks (classification, regression, and detection), and modalities (photos, satellite images, microscope slides, text, molecular graphs). The update maintains consistency with the original WILDS benchmark by using identical labeled training, validation, and test sets, as well as identical evaluation metrics. We systematically benchmark state-of-the-art methods that use unlabeled data, including domain-invariant, self-training, and self-supervised methods, and show that their success on WILDS is limited. To facilitate method development, we provide an open-source package that automates data loading and contains the model architectures and methods used in this paper. Code and leaderboards are available at