Hard Negative Sampling via Regularized Optimal Transport for Contrastive Representation Learning

We study the problem of designing hard negative sampling distributions for unsupervised contrastive representation learning. We analyze a novel min-max framework that seeks a representation which minimizes the maximum (worst-case) generalized contrastive learning loss over all couplings (joint distributions between positive and negative samples subject to marginal constraints) and prove that the resulting min-max optimum representation will be degenerate. This provides the first theoretical justification for incorporating additional regularization constraints on the couplings. We re-interpret the min-max problem through the lens of Optimal Transport theory and utilize regularized transport couplings to control the degree of hardness of negative examples. We demonstrate that the state-of-the-art hard negative sampling distributions that were recently proposed are a special case corresponding to entropic regularization of the coupling.

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