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Ben Adlam

Ben Adlam

I am a Senior Research Scientist at Google DeepMind working to understand and improve state-of-the-art AI. I joined Google in 2018 as an AI Resident, and before that I was a PhD student in applied math at Harvard, where I used techniques from probability theory and stochastic processes to study evolutionary dynamics and random matrices.

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    Exploring the Uncertainty Properties of Neural Networks’ Implicit Priors in the Infinite-Width Limit
    Jeffrey Pennington
    International Conference on Learning Representations, 2021, International Conference on Learning Representations, 2021, 27 pages
    Preview abstract Modern deep learning models have achieved great success in predictive accuracy for many data modalities. However, their application to many real-world tasks is restricted by poor uncertainty estimates, such as overconfidence on out-of-distribution (OOD) data and ungraceful failing under distributional shift. Previous benchmarks have found that ensembles of neural networks (NNs) are typically the best calibrated models on OOD data. Inspired by this, we leverage recent theoretical advances that characterize the function-space prior of an infinitely-wide NN as a Gaussian process, termed the neural network Gaussian process (NNGP). We use the NNGP with a softmax link function to build a probabilistic model for multi-class classification and marginalize over the latent Gaussian outputs to sample from the posterior. This gives us a better understanding of the implicit prior NNs place on function space and allows a direct comparison of the calibration of the NNGP and its finite-width analogue. We also examine the calibration of previous approaches to classification with the NNGP, which treat classification problems as regression to the one-hot labels. In this case the Bayesian posterior is exact, and we compare several heuristics to generate a categorical distribution over classes. We find these methods are well calibrated under distributional shift. Finally, we consider an infinite-width final layer in conjunction with a pre-trained embedding. This replicates the important practical use case of transfer learning and allows scaling to significantly larger datasets. As well as achieving competitive predictive accuracy, this approach is better calibrated than its finite width analogue. View details
    Preview abstract ML models often exhibit unexpectedly poor behavior when they are deployed in real-world domains. We identify underspecification as a key reason for these failures. An ML pipeline is underspecified when it can return many predictors with equivalently strong held-out performance in the training domain. Underspecification is common in modern ML pipelines, such as those based on deep learning. Predictors returned by underspecified pipelines are often treated as equivalent based on their training domain performance, but we show here that such predictors can behave very differently in deployment domains. This ambiguity can lead to instability and poor model behavior in practice, and is a distinct failure mode from previously identified issues arising from structural mismatch between training and deployment domains. We show that this problem appears in a wide variety of practical ML pipelines, using examples from computer vision, medical imaging, natural language processing, clinical risk prediction based on electronic health records, and medical genomics. Our results show the need to explicitly account for underspecification in modeling pipelines that are intended for real-world deployment in any domain. View details
    Preview abstract We perform a careful, thorough, and large scale empirical study of the correspondence between wide neural networks and kernel methods. By doing so, we resolve a variety of open questions related to the study of infinitely wide neural networks. Our experimental results include: kernel methods outperform fully connected finite width networks, but underperform convolutional finite width networks; neural network Gaussian process (NNGP) kernels frequently outperform neural tangent (NT) kernels; ensembles of finite networks have reduced posterior variance and behave similarly to infinite networks; weight decay and the use of a large learning rate break the correspondence of finite and infinite networks; the NTK parameterization outperforms the standard parameterization for finite width networks; finite network performance depends non-monotonically on width in ways not captured by double descent phenomena. Our experiments additionally motivate an improved layer-wise scaling for weight decay which improves generalization in finite-width networks. Finally, we develop improved best practices for using NNGP and NT kernels for prediction. Using these best practices we achieve state-of-the-art results for non-trainable kernels on CIFAR-10 classification tasks. View details
    The Surprising Simplicity of the Early-Time Learning Dynamics of Neural Networks
    Jeffrey Pennington
    Wei Hu
    Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 34: Annual Conference on Neural Information Processing Systems 2020, NeurIPS 2020
    Preview abstract Modern neural networks are often regarded as complex black-box functions whose behavior is difficult to understand owing to their nonlinear dependence on the data and the nonconvexity in their loss landscapes. In this work, we show that these common perceptions can be completely false in the early phase of learning. In particular, we formally prove that, for a class of well-behaved input distributions, the early-time learning dynamics of a two-layer fully-connected neural network can be mimicked by training a simple linear model on the inputs. We additionally argue that this surprising simplicity can persist in networks with more layers and with convolutional architecture, which we verify empirically. Key to our analysis is to bound the spectral norm of the difference between the Neural Tangent Kernel (NTK) and an affine transform of the data kernel; however, unlike many previous results utilizing the NTK, we do not require the network to have disproportionately large width, and the network is allowed to escape the kernel regime later in training. View details
    Cold Posteriors and Aleatoric Uncertainty
    ICML workshop on Uncertainty and Robustness in Deep Learning (2020)
    Preview abstract Recent work has observed that one can outperform exact inference in Bayesian neural networks by tuning the "temperature" of the posterior on a validation set (the "cold posterior" effect). To help interpret this phenomenon, we argue that commonly used priors in Bayesian neural networks can significantly overestimate the aleatoric uncertainty in the labels on many classification datasets. This problem is particularly pronounced in academic benchmarks like MNIST or CIFAR, for which the quality of the labels is high. For the special case of Gaussian process regression, any positive temperature corresponds to a valid posterior under a modified prior, and tuning this temperature is directly analogous to empirical Bayes. On classification tasks, there is no direct equivalence between modifying the prior and tuning the temperature, however reducing the temperature can lead to models which better reflect our belief that one gains little information by relabeling existing examples in the training set. Therefore although cold posteriors do not always correspond to an exact inference procedure, we believe they may often better reflect our true prior beliefs. View details
    Understanding Double Descent Requires a Fine-Grained Bias-Variance Decomposition
    Jeffrey Pennington
    Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 34: Annual Conference on Neural Information Processing Systems 2020, NeurIPS 2020
    Preview abstract Classical learning theory suggests that the optimal generalization performance of a machine learning model should occur at an intermediate model complexity, with simpler models exhibiting high bias and more complex models exhibiting high variance of the predictive function. However, such a simple trade-off does not adequately describe deep learning models that simultaneously attain low bias and variance in the heavily overparameterized regime. A primary obstacle in explaining this behavior is that deep learning algorithms typically involve multiple sources of randomness whose individual contributions are not visible in the total variance. To enable fine-grained analysis, we describe an interpretable, symmetric decomposition of the variance into terms associated with the randomness from sampling, initialization, and the labels. Moreover, we compute the high-dimensional asymptotic behavior of this decomposition for random feature kernel regression, and analyze the strikingly rich phenomenology that arises. We find that the bias decreases monotonically with the network width, but the variance terms exhibit non-monotonic behavior and can diverge at the interpolation boundary, even in the absence of label noise. The divergence is caused by the interaction between sampling and initialization and can therefore be eliminated by marginalizing over samples (i.e. bagging) or over the initial parameters (i.e. ensemble learning). View details
    The Neural Tangent Kernel in High Dimensions: Triple Descent and a Multi-Scale Theory of Generalization
    Jeffrey Pennington
    Thirty-seventh International Conference on Machine Learning (2020)
    Preview abstract Modern deep learning models employ considerably more parameters than required to fit the training data. Whereas conventional statistical wisdom suggests such models should drastically overfit, in practice these models generalize remarkably well. An emerging paradigm for describing this unexpected behavior is in terms of a double descent curve, in which increasing a model's capacity causes its test error to first decrease, then increase to a maximum near the interpolation threshold, and then decrease again in the overparameterized regime. Recent efforts to explain this phenomenon theoretically have focused on simple settings, such as linear regression or kernel regression with unstructured random features, which we argue are too coarse to reveal important nuances of actual neural networks. We provide a precise high-dimensional asymptotic analysis of generalization under kernel regression with the Neural Tangent Kernel, which characterizes the behavior of wide neural networks optimized with gradient descent. Our results reveal that the test error has non-monotonic behavior deep in the overparameterized regime and can even exhibit additional peaks and descents when the number of parameters scales quadratically with the dataset size. View details
    Investigating Under and Overfitting in Wasserstein Generative Adversarial Networks
    Amol Kapoor
    Charles Weill
    ICML Understanding and Improving Generalization in Deep Learning Workshop (2019)
    Preview abstract We investigate under and overfitting in Generative Adversarial Networks (GANs), using discriminators unseen by the generator to measure generalization. We find that the model capacity of the discriminator has a significant effect on the generator's model quality, and that the generator's poor performance coincides with the discriminator underfitting. Contrary to our expectations, we find that generators with large model capacities relative to the discriminator do not show evidence of overfitting on CIFAR10, CIFAR100, and CelebA. View details
    Learning GANs and Ensembles Using Discrepancy
    Ningshan Zhang
    Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 32: Annual Conference on Neural Information Processing Systems 2019, NeurIPS 2019
    Preview abstract Generative adversarial networks (GANs) generate data based on minimizing a divergence between two distributions. The choice of that divergence is therefore critical. We argue that the divergence must take into account the hypothesis set and the loss function used in a subsequent learning task, where the data generated by a GAN serves for training. Taking that structural information into account is also important to derive generalization guarantees. Thus, we propose to use the discrepancy measure, which was originally introduced for the closely related problem of domain adaptation and which precisely takes into account the hypothesis set and the loss function. We show that discrepancy admits favorable properties for training GANs and prove explicit generalization guarantees. We present efficient algorithms using discrepancy for two tasks: training a GAN directly, namely DGAN, and mixing previously trained generative models, namely EDGAN. Our experiments on toy examples and several benchmark datasets show that DGAN is competitive with other GANs and that EDGAN outperforms existing GAN ensembles, such as AdaGAN. View details
    AdaNet: A Scalable and Flexible Framework for Automatically Learning Ensembles
    Charles Weill
    Vitaly Kuznetsov
    Scott Yang
    Scott Yak
    Hanna Mazzawi
    Eugen Hotaj
    Ghassen Jerfel
    Vladimir Macko
    Preview abstract AdaNet is a lightweight TensorFlow-based (Abadi et al., 2015) framework for automatically learning high-quality ensembles with minimal expert intervention. Our framework is inspired by the AdaNet algorithm (Cortes et al., 2017) which learns the structure of a neural network as an ensemble of subnetworks. We designed it to: (1) integrate with the existing TensorFlow ecosystem, (2) offer sensible default search spaces to perform well on novel datasets, (3) present a flexible API to utilize expert information when available, and (4) efficiently accelerate training with distributed CPU, GPU, and TPU hardware. The code is open-source and available at https://github.com/tensorflow/adanet. View details
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