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  1. Academic tabular benchmarks often contain small sets of curated features. In contrast, data scientists typically collect as many features as possible into their datasets, and even engineer new features from existing ones. To prevent over-fitting in subsequent downstream modeling, practitioners commonly use automated feature selection methods that identify a reduced subset of informative features. Existing benchmarks for tabular feature selection consider classical downstream models, toy synthetic datasets, or do not evaluate feature selectors on the basis of downstream performance. We construct a challenging feature selection benchmark evaluated on downstream neural networks including transformers, using real datasets and multiple methods for generating extraneous features. We also propose an input-gradient-based analogue of LASSO for neural networks that outperforms classical feature selection methods on challenging problems such as selecting from corrupted or second-order features. 
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available December 15, 2024
  2. Models such as convolutional neural networks restrict the hypothesis space to a set of functions satisfying equivariance constraints, and improve generalization in problems by capturing relevant symmetries. However, symmetries are often only partially respected, preventing models with restriction biases from fitting the data. We introduce Residual Pathway Priors (RPPs) as a method for converting hard architectural constraints into soft priors, guiding models towards structured solutions while retaining the ability to capture additional complexity. RPPs are resilient to approximate or misspecified symmetries, and are as effective as fully constrained models even when symmetries are exact. We show that RPPs provide compelling performance on both model-free and model-based reinforcement learning problems, where contact forces and directional rewards violate the assumptions of equivariant networks. Finally, we demonstrate that RPPs have broad applicability, including dynamical systems, regression, and classification. 
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  3. Approximate Bayesian inference for neural networks is considered a robust alternative to standard training, often providing good performance on out-of-distribution data. However, Bayesian neural networks (BNNs) with high-fidelity approximate inference via full-batch Hamiltonian Monte Carlo achieve poor generalization under covariate shift, even underperforming classical estimation. We explain this surprising result, showing how a Bayesian model average can in fact be problematic under covariate shift, particularly in cases where linear dependencies in the input features cause a lack of posterior contraction. We additionally show why the same issue does not affect many approximate inference procedures, or classical maximum a-posteriori (MAP) training. Finally, we propose novel priors that improve the robustness of BNNs to many sources of covariate shift. 
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  4. Knowledge distillation is a popular technique for training a small student network to emulate a larger teacher model, such as an ensemble of networks. We show that while knowledge distillation can improve student generalization, it does not typically work as it is commonly understood: there often remains a surprisingly large discrepancy between the predictive distributions of the teacher and the student, even in cases when the student has the capacity to perfectly match the teacher. We identify difficulties in optimization as a key reason for why the student is unable to match the teacher. We also show how the details of the dataset used for distillation play a role in how closely the student matches the teacher --- and that more closely matching the teacher paradoxically does not always lead to better student generalization. 
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