Amii Papers and Presentations at ICLR 2024 explore scalability, real-time learning and more

Vienna skyline (Photo: Maximilian Jähnichen/Pexels)

This week, Amii students and researchers will present work at the 2024 International Conference on Learning Representation (ICLR) , taking place in Vienna, Austria from May 7th to May 11th.

ICLR is one of the premier conferences on representation learning, a branch of machine learning that focuses on transforming and extracting from data with the aim of identifying useful features or patterns within it. The conference draws in experts from around the world to present cutting-edge work with applications that extend to areas like computer vision, computational biology, gaming, robotics and more.

This year, Amii researchers share insights into representation learning, efficient learning algorithms, evaluation criteria and more.

Have a look at the research being presented below. (Bolded names denote an Amii Fellow and/or Canada CIFAR AI Chair, or an Amii-affiliated student)

Update: Congratulations to Amii Fellow and Canada CIFAR AI Chair Dale Schuurmans and et al. for winning an Outstanding Paper Award at this year's conference with their paper, "Learning Interactive Real-World Simulators'.

In-Person Poster Presentations

Stochastic Gradient Descent for Gaussian Processes Done Right

Jihao Andreas Lin · Shreyas Padhy · Javier Antorán · Austin Tripp · Alexander Terenin · Csaba Szepesvari· José Miguel Hernández Lobato · David Janz


As is well known, both sampling from the posterior and computing the mean of the posterior in Gaussian process regression reduces to solving a large linear system of equations. We study the use of stochastic gradient descent for solving this linear system, and show that when done right---by which we mean using specific insights from the optimisation and kernel communities---stochastic gradient descent is highly effective. To that end, we introduce a particularly simple stochastic dual descent algorithm, explain its design in an intuitive manner and illustrate the design choices through a series of ablation studies. Further experiments demonstrate that our new method is highly competitive. In particular, our evaluations on the UCI regression tasks and on Bayesian optimisation set our approach apart from preconditioned conjugate gradients and variational Gaussian process approximations. Moreover, our method places Gaussian process regression on par with state-of-the-art graph neural networks for molecular binding affinity prediction.

Scalable Diffusion for Materials Generation

Sherry Yang · Kwanghwan Cho · Amil Merchant · Pieter Abbeel · Dale Schuurmans · Igor Mordatch · Ekin Cubuk


Generative models trained on internet-scale data are capable of generating novel and realistic texts, images, and videos. A natural next question is whether these models can advance science, for example by generating novel stable materials. Traditionally, models with explicit structures (e.g., graphs) have been used in modeling structural relationships in scientific data (e.g., atoms and bonds in crystals), but generating structures can be difficult to scale to large and complex systems. Another challenge in generating materials is the mismatch between standard generative modeling metrics and downstream applications. For instance, common metrics such as the reconstruction error do not correlate well with the downstream goal of discovering novel stable materials. In this work, we tackle the scalability challenge by developing a unified crystal representation that can represent any crystal structure (UniMat), followed by training a diffusion probabilistic model on these UniMat representations. Our empirical results suggest that despite the lack of explicit structure modeling, UniMat can generate high fidelity crystal structures from larger and more complex chemical systems, outperforming previous graph-based approaches under various generative modeling metrics. To better connect the generation quality of materials to downstream applications, such as discovering novel stable materials, we propose additional metrics for evaluating generative models of materials, including per-composition formation energy and stability with respect to convex hulls through decomposition energy from Density Function Theory (DFT). Lastly, we show that conditional generation with UniMat can scale to previously established crystal datasets with up to millions of crystals structures, outperforming random structure search (the current leading method for structure discovery) in discovering new stable materials.

Learning Interactive Real-World Simulators

Sherry Yang · Yilun Du · Seyed Ghasemipour · Jonathan Tompson · Leslie Kaelbling · Dale Schuurmans · Pieter Abbeel


Generative models trained on internet data have revolutionized how text, image, and video content can be created. Perhaps the next milestone for generative models is to simulate realistic experience in response to actions taken by humans, robots, and other interactive agents. Applications of a real-world simulator range from controllable content creation in games and movies, to training embodied agents purely in simulation that can be directly deployed in the real world. We explore the possibility of learning a universal simulator (UniSim) of real-world interaction through generative modeling. We first make the important observation that natural datasets available for learning a real-world simulator are often rich along different axes (e.g., abundant objects in image data, densely sampled actions in robotics data, and diverse movements in navigation data). With careful orchestration of diverse datasets, each providing a different aspect of the overall experience, UniSim can emulate how humans and agents interact with the world by simulating the visual outcome of both high-level instructions such as “open the drawer” and low-level controls such as “move by x,y” from otherwise static scenes and objects. There are numerous use cases for such a real-world simulator. As an example, we use UniSim to train both high-level vision-language planners and low-level reinforcement learning policies, each of which exhibit zero-shot real-world transfer after training purely in a learned real-world simulator. We also show that other types of intelligence such as video captioning models can benefit from training with simulated experience in UniSim, opening up even wider applications.

Probabilistic Adaptation of Black-Box Text-to-Video Models

Sherry Yang · Yilun Du · Bo Dai · Dale Schuurmans · Joshua B Tenenbaum · Pieter Abbeel


Large text-to-video models trained on internet-scale data have demonstrated exceptional capabilities in generating high-fidelity videos from arbitrary textual descriptions. However, similar to proprietary language models, large text-to-video models are often black boxes whose weight parameters are not publicly available, posing a significant challenge to adapting these models to specific domains such as robotics, animation, and personalized stylization. Inspired by how a large language model can be prompted to perform new tasks without access to the model weights, we investigate how to adapt a black-box pretrained text-to-video model to a variety of downstream domains without weight access to the pretrained model. In answering this question, we propose \emph{\methodname}, which leverages the score function of a large pretrained video diffusion model as a probabilistic prior to guide the generation of a task-specific small video model. Our experiments show that, by incorporating broad knowledge and fidelity of the pretrained model probabilistically, a small model with as few as 1.25% parameters of the pretrained model can generate high-quality yet domain-specific videos for a variety of downstream domains such as animation, egocentric modeling, and modeling of simulated and real-world robotics data. As large text-to-video models starting to become available as a service similar to large language models, we advocate for private institutions to expose scores of video diffusion models as outputs in addition to generated videos to allow flexible adaptation of large pretrained text-to-video models by the general public.

Reclaiming the Source of Programmatic Policies: Programmatic versus Latent Spaces

Tales Carvalho · Kenneth Tjhia · Levi Lelis


Recent works have introduced LEAPS and HPRL, systems that learn latent spaces of domain-specific languages, which are used to define programmatic policies for partially observable Markov decision processes (POMDPs). These systems induce a latent space while optimizing losses such as the behavior loss, which aim to achieve locality in program behavior, meaning that vectors close in the latent space should correspond to similarly behaving programs. In this paper, we show that the programmatic space, induced by the domain-specific language and requiring no training, presents values for the behavior loss similar to those observed in latent spaces presented in previous work. Moreover, algorithms searching in the programmatic space significantly outperform those in LEAPS and HPRL. To explain our results, we measured the "friendliness" of the two spaces to local search algorithms. We discovered that algorithms are more likely to stop at local maxima when searching in the latent space than when searching in the programmatic space. This implies that the optimization topology of the programmatic space, induced by the reward function in conjunction with the neighborhood function, is more conducive to search than that of the latent space. This result provides an explanation for the superior performance in the programmatic space.

Unveiling Options with Neural Network Decomposition

Mahdi Alikhasi · Levi Lelis


In reinforcement learning, agents often learn policies for specific tasks without the ability to generalize this knowledge to related tasks. This paper introduces an algorithm that attempts to address this limitation by decomposing neural networks encoding policies for Markov Decision Processes into reusable sub-policies, which are used to synthesize temporally extended actions, or options. We consider neural networks with piecewise linear activation functions, so that they can be mapped to an equivalent tree that is similar to oblique decision trees. Since each node in such a tree serves as a function of the input of the tree, each sub-tree is a sub-policy of the main policy. We turn each of these sub-policies into options by wrapping it with while-loops of varied number of iterations. Given the large number of options, we propose a selection mechanism based on minimizing the Levin loss for a uniform policy on these options. Empirical results in two grid-world domains where exploration can be difficult confirm that our method can identify useful options, thereby accelerating the learning process on similar but different tasks.

Federated Text-driven Prompt Generation for Vision-Language Models

Chen Qiu · Xingyu Li· Chaithanya Kumar Mummadi · Madan Ganesh · Zhenzhen Li · Lu Peng · Wan-Yi Lin


Prompt learning for vision-language models, e.g., CoOp, has shown great success in adapting CLIP to different downstream tasks, making it a promising solution for federated learning due to computational reasons. Existing prompt learning techniques replace hand-crafted text prompts with learned vectors that offer improvements on seen classes, but struggle to generalize to unseen classes. Our work addresses this challenge by proposing Federated Text-driven Prompt Generation (FedTPG), which learns a unified prompt generation network across multiple remote clients in a scalable manner. The prompt generation network is conditioned on task-related text input, thus is context-aware, making it suitable to generalize for both seen and unseen classes. Our comprehensive empirical evaluations on nine diverse image classification datasets show that our method is superior to existing federated prompt learning methods, achieving better overall generalization on both seen and unseen classes, as well as datasets.

LRR: Language-Driven Resamplable Continuous Representation against Adversarial Tracking Attacks

Jianlang Chen · Xuhong Ren · Qing Guo · Felix Juefei-Xu · Di Lin · Wei Feng · Lei Ma · Jianjun Zhao


Visual object tracking plays a critical role in visual-based autonomous systems, as it aims to estimate the position and size of the object of interest within a live video. Despite significant progress made in this field, state-of-the-art (SOTA) trackers often fail when faced with adversarial perturbations in the incoming frames. This can lead to significant robustness and security issues when these trackers are deployed in the real world. To achieve high accuracy on both clean and adversarial data, we propose building a spatial-temporal continuous representation using the semantic text guidance of the object of interest. This novel continuous representation enables us to reconstruct incoming frames to maintain semantic and appearance consistency with the object of interest and its clean counterparts. As a result, our proposed method successfully defends against different SOTA adversarial tracking attacks while maintaining high accuracy on clean data. In particular, our method significantly increases tracking accuracy under adversarial attacks with around 90% relative improvement on UAV123, which is even higher than the accuracy on clean data.

Neuron Activation Coverage: Rethinking Out-of-distribution Detection and Generalization

Yibing Liu · Chris Xing TIAN · Haoliang Li · Lei Ma · Shiqi Wang


The out-of-distribution (OOD) problem generally arises when neural networks encounter data that significantly deviates from the training data distribution, i.e., in-distribution (InD). In this paper, we study the OOD problem from a neuron activation view. We first formulate neuron activation states by considering both the neuron output and its influence on model decisions. Then, to characterize the relationship between neurons and OOD issues, we introduce the neuron activation coverage (NAC) -- a simple measure for neuron behaviors under InD data. Leveraging our NAC, we show that 1) InD and OOD inputs can be largely separated based on the neuron behavior, which significantly eases the OOD detection problem and beats the 21 previous methods over three benchmarks (CIFAR-10, CIFAR-100, and ImageNet-1K). 2) a positive correlation between NAC and model generalization ability consistently holds across architectures and datasets, which enables a NAC-based criterion for evaluating model robustness. Compared to prevalent InD validation criteria, we show that NAC not only can select more robust models, but also has a stronger correlation with OOD test performance.

Proper Laplacian Representation Learning

Diego Gomez · Michael Bowling · Marlos C. Machado


The ability to learn good representations of states is essential for solving large reinforcement learning problems, where exploration, generalization, and transfer are particularly challenging. The Laplacian representation is a promising approach to address these problems by inducing informative state encoding and intrinsic rewards for temporally-extended action discovery and reward shaping. To obtain the Laplacian representation one needs to compute the eigensystem of the graph Laplacian, which is often approximated through optimization objectives compatible with deep learning approaches. These approximations, however, depend on hyperparameters that are impossible to tune efficiently, converge to arbitrary rotations of the desired eigenvectors, and are unable to accurately recover the corresponding eigenvalues. In this paper we introduce a theoretically sound objective and corresponding optimization algorithm for approximating the Laplacian representation. Our approach naturally recovers both the true eigenvectors and eigenvalues while eliminating the hyperparameter dependence of previous approximations. We provide theoretical guarantees for our method and we show that those results translate empirically into robust learning across multiple environments.

Provable and Practical: Efficient Exploration in Reinforcement Learning via Langevin Monte Carlo

Haque Ishfaq · Qingfeng Lan · Pan Xu · A. Rupam Mahmood· Doina Precup · anima anandkumar · Kamyar Azizzadenesheli


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Addressing Loss of Plasticity and Catastrophic Forgetting in Continual Learning

Mohamed Elsayed · A. Rupam Mahmood


Deep representation learning methods struggle with continual learning, suffering from both catastrophic forgetting of useful units and loss of plasticity, often due to rigid and unuseful units. While many methods address these two issues separately, only a few currently deal with both simultaneously. In this paper, we introduce Utility-based Perturbed Gradient Descent (UPGD) as a novel approach for the continual learning of representations. UPGD combines gradient updates with perturbations, where it applies smaller modifications to more useful units, protecting them from forgetting, and larger modifications to less useful units, rejuvenating their plasticity. We use a challenging streaming learning setup where continual learning problems have hundreds of non-stationarities and unknown task boundaries. We show that many existing methods suffer from at least one of the issues, predominantly manifested by their decreasing accuracy over tasks. On the other hand, UPGD continues to improve performance and surpasses or is competitive with all methods in all problems. Finally, in extended reinforcement learning experiments with PPO, we show that while Adam exhibits a performance drop after initial learning, UPGD avoids it by addressing both continual learning issues.

Ensemble Distillation for Unsupervised Constituency Parsing

Behzad Shayegh · Yanshuai Cao · Xiaodan Zhu · Jackie Cheung · Lili Mou


We investigate the unsupervised constituency parsing task, which organizes words and phrases of a sentence into a hierarchical structure without using linguistically annotated data. We observe that existing unsupervised parsers capture different aspects of parsing structures, which can be leveraged to enhance unsupervised parsing performance.To this end, we propose a notion of "tree averaging," based on which we further propose a novel ensemble method for unsupervised parsing. To improve inference efficiency, we further distill the ensemble knowledge into a student model; such an ensemble-then-distill process is an effective approach to mitigate the over-smoothing problem existing in common multi-teacher distilling methods. Experiments show that our method surpasses all previous approaches, consistently demonstrating its effectiveness and robustness across various runs, with different ensemble components, and under domain-shift conditions.

Zero-Shot Continuous Prompt Transfer: Generalizing Task Semantics Across Language Models

Zijun Wu · Yongkang Wu · Lili Mou


Prompt tuning in natural language processing (NLP) has become an increasingly popular method for adapting large language models to specific tasks. However, the transferability of these prompts, especially continuous prompts, between different models remains a challenge. In this work, we propose a zero-shot continuous prompt transfer method, where source prompts are encoded into relative space and the corresponding target prompts are searched for transferring to target models. Experimental results confirm the effectiveness of our method, showing that 'task semantics' in continuous prompts can be generalized across various language models. Moreover, we find that combining 'task semantics' from multiple source models can further enhance the performance of transfer.

Scalable Real-Time Recurrent Learning Using Columnar-Constructive Networks

Khurram Javed · Haseeb Shah · Richard Sutton · Martha White


Constructing states from sequences of observations is an important component of reinforcement learning agents. One solution for state construction is to use recurrent neural networks. Back-propagation through time (BPTT), and real-time recurrent learning (RTRL) are two popular gradient-based methods for recurrent learning. BPTT requires complete trajectories of observations before it can compute the gradients and is unsuitable for online updates. RTRL can do online updates but scales poorly to large networks. In this paper, we propose two constraints that make RTRL scalable. We show that by either decomposing the network into independent modules or learning the network in stages, we can make RTRL scale linearly with the number of parameters. Unlike prior scalable gradient estimation algorithms, such as UORO and Truncated-BPTT, our algorithms do not add noise or bias to the gradient estimate. Instead, they trade off the functional capacity of the network for computationally efficient learning. We demonstrate the effectiveness of our approach over Truncated-BPTT on a prediction benchmark inspired by animal learning and by doing policy evaluation of pre-trained policies for Atari 2600 games.

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