Investigating Power laws in Deep Representation Learning

11 Feb 2022  ·  Arna Ghosh, Arnab Kumar Mondal, Kumar Krishna Agrawal, Blake Richards ·

Representation learning that leverages large-scale labelled datasets, is central to recent progress in machine learning. Access to task relevant labels at scale is often scarce or expensive, motivating the need to learn from unlabelled datasets with self-supervised learning (SSL). Such large unlabelled datasets (with data augmentations) often provide a good coverage of the underlying input distribution. However evaluating the representations learned by SSL algorithms still requires task-specific labelled samples in the training pipeline. Additionally, the generalization of task-specific encoding is often sensitive to potential distribution shift. Inspired by recent advances in theoretical machine learning and vision neuroscience, we observe that the eigenspectrum of the empirical feature covariance matrix often follows a power law. For visual representations, we estimate the coefficient of the power law, $\alpha$, across three key attributes which influence representation learning: learning objective (supervised, SimCLR, Barlow Twins and BYOL), network architecture (VGG, ResNet and Vision Transformer), and tasks (object and scene recognition). We observe that under mild conditions, proximity of $\alpha$ to 1, is strongly correlated to the downstream generalization performance. Furthermore, $\alpha \approx 1$ is a strong indicator of robustness to label noise during fine-tuning. Notably, $\alpha$ is computable from the representations without knowledge of any labels, thereby offering a framework to evaluate the quality of representations in unlabelled datasets.

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