A unifying mutual information view of metric learning: cross-entropy vs. pairwise losses

Recently, substantial research efforts in Deep Metric Learning (DML) focused on designing complex pairwise-distance losses, which require convoluted schemes to ease optimization, such as sample mining or pair weighting. The standard cross-entropy loss for classification has been largely overlooked in DML. On the surface, the cross-entropy may seem unrelated and irrelevant to metric learning as it does not explicitly involve pairwise distances. However, we provide a theoretical analysis that links the cross-entropy to several well-known and recent pairwise losses. Our connections are drawn from two different perspectives: one based on an explicit optimization insight; the other on discriminative and generative views of the mutual information between the labels and the learned features. First, we explicitly demonstrate that the cross-entropy is an upper bound on a new pairwise loss, which has a structure similar to various pairwise losses: it minimizes intra-class distances while maximizing inter-class distances. As a result, minimizing the cross-entropy can be seen as an approximate bound-optimization (or Majorize-Minimize) algorithm for minimizing this pairwise loss. Second, we show that, more generally, minimizing the cross-entropy is actually equivalent to maximizing the mutual information, to which we connect several well-known pairwise losses. Furthermore, we show that various standard pairwise losses can be explicitly related to one another via bound relationships. Our findings indicate that the cross-entropy represents a proxy for maximizing the mutual information -- as pairwise losses do -- without the need for convoluted sample-mining heuristics. Our experiments over four standard DML benchmarks strongly support our findings. We obtain state-of-the-art results, outperforming recent and complex DML methods.

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Results from the Paper


Ranked #7 on Metric Learning on In-Shop (using extra training data)

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Task Dataset Model Metric Name Metric Value Global Rank Uses Extra
Training Data
Result Benchmark
Metric Learning CARS196 ResNet-50 + Cross-Entropy R@1 89.3 # 7
Metric Learning CUB-200-2011 ResNet-50 + Cross-Entropy R@1 69.2 # 9
Metric Learning In-Shop ResNet-50 + Cross-Entropy R@1 90.6 # 7
Metric Learning Stanford Online Products ResNet-50 + Cross-Entropy R@1 81.1 # 11

Methods