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On the Importance of Firth Bias Reduction in Few-Shot Classification

Saba Ghaffari · Ehsan Saleh · David Forsyth · Yu-Xiong Wang

Abstract: Learning accurate classifiers for novel categories from very few examples, known as few-shot image classification, is a challenging task in statistical machine learning and computer vision. The performance in few-shot classification suffers from the bias in the estimation of classifier parameters; however, an effective underlying bias reduction technique that could alleviate this issue in training few-shot classifiers has been overlooked. In this work, we demonstrate the effectiveness of Firth bias reduction in few-shot classification. Theoretically, Firth bias reduction removes the $O(N^{-1})$ first order term from the small-sample bias of the Maximum Likelihood Estimator. Here we show that the general Firth bias reduction technique simplifies to encouraging uniform class assignment probabilities for multinomial logistic classification, and almost has the same effect in cosine classifiers. We derive an easy-to-implement optimization objective for Firth penalized multinomial logistic and cosine classifiers, which is equivalent to penalizing the cross-entropy loss with a KL-divergence between the predictions and the uniform label distribution. Then, we empirically evaluate that it is consistently effective across the board for few-shot image classification, regardless of (1) the feature representations from different backbones, (2) the number of samples per class, and (3) the number of classes. Finally, we show the robustness of Firth bias reduction, in the case of imbalanced data distribution. Our implementation is available at

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