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  1. A common approach to transfer learning under distribution shift is to fine-tune the last few layers of a pre-trained model, preserving learned features while also adapting to the new task. This paper shows that in such settings, selectively fine-tuning a subset of layers (which we term surgical fine-tuning) matches or outperforms commonly used fine-tuning approaches. Moreover, the type of distribution shift influences which subset is more effective to tune: for example, for image corruptions, fine-tuning only the first few layers works best. We validate our findings systematically across seven real-world data tasks spanning three types of distribution shifts. Theoretically, we prove that for two-layer neural networks in an idealized setting, first-layer tuning can outperform fine-tuning all layers. Intuitively, fine-tuning more parameters on a small target dataset can cause information learned during pre-training to be forgotten, and the relevant information depends on the type of shift. 
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  2. When transferring a pretrained model to a downstream task, two popular methods are full fine-tuning (updating all the model parameters) and linear probing (updating only the last linear layer—the “head”). It is well known that fine-tuning leads to better accuracy in-distribution (ID). However, in this paper, we find that fine-tuning can achieve worse accuracy than linear probing out-of-distribution (OOD) when the pretrained features are good and the distribution shift is large. On 10 distribution shift datasets (Breeds-Living17, Breeds-Entity30, DomainNet, CIFAR → STL, CIFAR10.1, FMoW, ImageNetV2, ImageNet-R, ImageNet-A, ImageNet-Sketch), fine-tuning obtains on average 2% higher accuracy ID but 7% lower accuracy OOD than linear probing. We show theoretically that this tradeoff between ID and OOD accuracy arises even in a simple setting: fine-tuning overparameterized two-layer linear networks. We prove that the OOD error of fine-tuning is high when we initialize with a fixed or random head—this is because while fine-tuning learns the head, the lower layers of the neural network change simultaneously and distort the pretrained features. Our analysis suggests that the easy two-step strategy of linear probing then full fine-tuning (LP-FT), sometimes used as a fine-tuning heuristic, combines the benefits of both fine-tuning and linear probing. Empirically, LP-FT outperforms both fine-tuning and linear probing on the above datasets (1% better ID, 10% better OOD than full fine-tuning). 
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  3. When transferring a pretrained model to a downstream task, two popular methods are full fine-tuning (updating all the model parameters) and linear probing (updating only the last linear layer -- the "head"). It is well known that fine-tuning leads to better accuracy in-distribution (ID). However, in this paper, we find that fine-tuning can achieve worse accuracy than linear probing out-of-distribution (OOD) when the pretrained features are good and the distribution shift is large. On 10 distribution shift datasets (Breeds-Living17, Breeds-Entity30, DomainNet, CIFAR → STL, CIFAR10.1, FMoW, ImageNetV2, ImageNet-R, ImageNet-A, ImageNet-Sketch), fine-tuning obtains on average 2% higher accuracy ID but 7% lower accuracy OOD than linear probing. We show theoretically that this tradeoff between ID and OOD accuracy arises even in a simple setting: fine-tuning overparameterized two-layer linear networks. We prove that the OOD error of fine-tuning is high when we initialize with a fixed or random head -- this is because while fine-tuning learns the head, the lower layers of the neural network change simultaneously and distort the pretrained features. Our analysis suggests that the easy two-step strategy of linear probing then full fine-tuning (LP-FT), sometimes used as a fine-tuning heuristic, combines the benefits of both fine-tuning and linear probing. Empirically, LP-FT outperforms both fine-tuning and linear probing on the above datasets (1% better ID, 10% better OOD than full fine-tuning). 
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  4. Machine learning systems deployed in the wild are often trained on a source distribution but deployed on a different target distribution. Unlabeled data can be a powerful point of leverage for mitigating these distribution shifts, as it is frequently much more available than labeled data and can often be obtained from distributions beyond the source distribution as well. However, existing distribution shift benchmarks with unlabeled data do not reflect the breadth of scenarios that arise in real-world applications. In this work, we present the WILDS 2.0 update, which extends 8 of the 10 datasets in the WILDS benchmark of distribution shifts to include curated unlabeled data that would be realistically obtainable in deployment. These datasets span a wide range of applications (from histology to wildlife conservation), tasks (classification, regression, and detection), and modalities (photos, satellite images, microscope slides, text, molecular graphs). The update maintains consistency with the original WILDS benchmark by using identical labeled training, validation, and test sets, as well as identical evaluation metrics. We systematically benchmark state-of-the-art methods that use unlabeled data, including domain-invariant, self-training, and self-supervised methods, and show that their success on WILDS is limited. To facilitate method development, we provide an open-source package that automates data loading and contains the model architectures and methods used in this paper. 
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  5. Machine learning systems deployed in the wild are often trained on a source distribution but deployed on a different target distribution. Unlabeled data can be a powerful point of leverage for mitigating these distribution shifts, as it is frequently much more available than labeled data and can often be obtained from distributions beyond the source distribution as well. However, existing distribution shift benchmarks with unlabeled data do not reflect the breadth of scenarios that arise in real-world applications. In this work, we present the WILDS 2.0 update, which extends 8 of the 10 datasets in the WILDS benchmark of distribution shifts to include curated unlabeled data that would be realistically obtainable in deployment. These datasets span a wide range of applications (from histology to wildlife conservation), tasks (classification, regression, and detection), and modalities (photos, satellite images, microscope slides, text, molecular graphs). The update maintains consistency with the original WILDS benchmark by using identical labeled training, validation, and test sets, as well as the evaluation metrics. On these datasets, we systematically benchmark state-of-the-art methods that leverage unlabeled data, including domain-invariant, self-training, and self-supervised methods, and show that their success on WILDS is limited. To facilitate method development and evaluation, we provide an open-source package that automates data loading and contains all of the model architectures and methods used in this paper. Code and leaderboards are available at this https URL. 
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