While multi-task learning (MTL) has gained significant attention in recent years, its underlying mechanisms remain poorly understood. Recent methods did not yield consistent performance improvements over single task learning (STL) baselines, underscoring the importance of gaining more profound insights about challenges specific to MTL. In our study, we challenge common assumptions in MTL in the context of STL: First, the choice of optimizer has only been mildly investigated in MTL. We show the pivotal role of common STL tools such as the Adam optimizer in MTL. We deduce the effectiveness of Adam to its partial loss-scale invariance. Second, the notion of gradient conflicts has often been phrased as a specific problem in MTL. We delve into the role of gradient conflicts in MTL and compare it to STL. For angular gradient alignment we find no evidence that this is a unique problem in MTL. We emphasize differences in gradient magnitude as the main distinguishing factor. Lastly, we compare the transferability of features learned through MTL and STL on common image corruptions, and find no conclusive evidence that MTL leads to superior transferability. Overall, we find surprising similarities between STL and MTL suggesting to consider methods from both fields in a broader context.
Systems neuroscience relies on two complementary views of neural data, characterized by single neuron tuning curves and analysis of population activity. These two perspectives combine elegantly in neural latent variable models that constrain the relationship between latent variables and neural activity, modeled by simple tuning curve functions. This has recently been demonstrated using Gaussian processes, with applications to realistic and topologically relevant latent manifolds. Those and previous models, however, missed crucial shared coding properties of neural populations. We propose feature sharing across neural tuning curves, which significantly improves performance and leads to better-behaved optimization. We also propose a solution to the problem of ensemble detection, whereby different groups of neurons, i.e., ensembles, can be modulated by different latent manifolds. This is achieved through a soft clustering of neurons during training, thus allowing for the separation of mixed neural populations in an unsupervised manner. These innovations lead to more interpretable models of neural population activity that train well and perform better even on mixtures of complex latent manifolds. Finally, we apply our method on a recently published grid cell dataset, recovering distinct ensembles, inferring toroidal latents and predicting neural tuning curves all in a single integrated modeling framework.
The tremendous success of generative models in recent years raises the question whether they can also be used to perform classification. Generative models have been used as adversarially robust classifiers on simple datasets such as MNIST, but this robustness has not been observed on more complex datasets like CIFAR-10. Additionally, on natural image datasets, previous results have suggested a trade-off between the likelihood of the data and classification accuracy. In this work, we investigate score-based generative models as classifiers for natural images. We show that these models not only obtain competitive likelihood values but simultaneously achieve state-of-the-art classification accuracy for generative classifiers on CIFAR-10. Nevertheless, we find that these models are only slightly, if at all, more robust than discriminative baseline models on out-of-distribution tasks based on common image corruptions. Similarly and contrary to prior results, we find that score-based are prone to worst-case distribution shifts in the form of adversarial perturbations. Our work highlights that score-based generative models are closing the gap in classification accuracy compared to standard discriminative models. While they do not yet deliver on the promise of adversarial and out-of-domain robustness, they provide a different approach to classification that warrants further research.
An important component for generalization in machine learning is to uncover underlying latent factors of variation as well as the mechanism through which each factor acts in the world. In this paper, we test whether 17 unsupervised, weakly supervised, and fully supervised representation learning approaches correctly infer the generative factors of variation in simple datasets (dSprites, Shapes3D, MPI3D). In contrast to prior robustness work that introduces novel factors of variation during test time, such as blur or other (un)structured noise, we here recompose, interpolate, or extrapolate only existing factors of variation from the training data set (e.g., small and medium-sized objects during training and large objects during testing). Models that learn the correct mechanism should be able to generalize to this benchmark. In total, we train and test 2000+ models and observe that all of them struggle to learn the underlying mechanism regardless of supervision signal and architectural bias. Moreover, the generalization capabilities of all tested models drop significantly as we move from artificial datasets towards more realistic real-world datasets. Despite their inability to identify the correct mechanism, the models are quite modular as their ability to infer other in-distribution factors remains fairly stable, providing only a single factor is out-of-distribution. These results point to an important yet understudied problem of learning mechanistic models of observations that can facilitate generalization.
We construct an unsupervised learning model that achieves nonlinear disentanglement of underlying factors of variation in naturalistic videos. Previous work suggests that representations can be disentangled if all but a few factors in the environment stay constant at any point in time. As a result, algorithms proposed for this problem have only been tested on carefully constructed datasets with this exact property, leaving it unclear whether they will transfer to natural scenes. Here we provide evidence that objects in segmented natural movies undergo transitions that are typically small in magnitude with occasional large jumps, which is characteristic of a temporally sparse distribution. We leverage this finding and present SlowVAE, a model for unsupervised representation learning that uses a sparse prior on temporally adjacent observations to disentangle generative factors without any assumptions on the number of changing factors. We provide a proof of identifiability and show that the model reliably learns disentangled representations on several established benchmark datasets, often surpassing the current state-of-the-art. We additionally demonstrate transferability towards video datasets with natural dynamics, Natural Sprites and KITTI Masks, which we contribute as benchmarks for guiding disentanglement research towards more natural data domains.
The human visual system is remarkably robust against a wide range of naturally occurring variations and corruptions like rain or snow. In contrast, the performance of modern image recognition models strongly degrades when evaluated on previously unseen corruptions. Here, we demonstrate that a simple but properly tuned training with additive Gaussian and Speckle noise generalizes surprisingly well to unseen corruptions, easily reaching the previous state of the art on the corruption benchmark ImageNet-C (with ResNet50) and on MNIST-C. We build on top of these strong baseline results and show that an adversarial training of the recognition model against uncorrelated worst-case noise distributions leads to an additional increase in performance. This regularization can be combined with previously proposed defense methods for further improvement.