Words are all you need? Language as an approximation for human similarity judgments

Human similarity judgments are a powerful supervision signal for machine learning applications based on techniques such as contrastive learning, information retrieval, and model alignment, but classical methods for collecting human similarity judgments are too expensive to be used at scale. Recent methods propose using pre-trained deep neural networks (DNNs) to approximate human similarity, but pre-trained DNNs may not be available for certain domains (e.g., medical images, low-resource languages) and their performance in approximating human similarity has not been extensively tested. We conducted an evaluation of 611 pre-trained models across three domains -- images, audio, video -- and found that there is a large gap in performance between human similarity judgments and pre-trained DNNs. To address this gap, we propose a new class of similarity approximation methods based on language. To collect the language data required by these new methods, we also developed and validated a novel adaptive tag collection pipeline. We find that our proposed language-based methods are significantly cheaper, in the number of human judgments, than classical methods, but still improve performance over the DNN-based methods. Finally, we also develop `stacked' methods that combine language embeddings with DNN embeddings, and find that these consistently provide the best approximations for human similarity across all three of our modalities. Based on the results of this comprehensive study, we provide a concise guide for researchers interested in collecting or approximating human similarity data. To accompany this guide, we also release all of the similarity and language data, a total of 206,339 human judgments, that we collected in our experiments, along with a detailed breakdown of all modeling results.

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