ICLR 2024
Conference paper

Unraveling the Key Components of OOD Generalization via Diversification

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Supervised learning datasets may contain multiple cues that explain the training set equally well, i.e., learning any of them would lead to the correct predictions on the training data. However, many of them can be spurious, i.e., lose their predictive power under a distribution shift and consequently fail to generalize to out-of-distribution (OOD) data. Recently developed "diversification" methods (Lee et al., 2023; Pagliardini et al., 2023) approach this problem by finding multiple diverse hypotheses that rely on different features. This paper aims to study this class of methods and identify the key components contributing to their OOD generalization abilities.We show that (1) diversification methods are highly sensitive to the distribution of the unlabeled data used for diversification and can underperform significantly when away from a method-specific sweet spot. (2) Diversification alone is insufficient for OOD generalization. The choice of the used learning algorithm, e.g., the model's architecture and pretraining, is crucial. In standard experiments (classification on Waterbirds and Office-Home datasets), using the second-best choice leads to an up to 20\% absolute drop in accuracy. (3) The optimal choice of learning algorithm depends on the unlabeled data and vice versa i.e. they are co-dependent. (4) Finally, we show that, in practice, the above pitfalls cannot be alleviated by increasing the number of diverse hypotheses, the major feature of diversification methods.These findings provide a clearer understanding of the critical design factors influencing the OOD generalization abilities of diversification methods. They can guide practitioners in how to use the existing methods best and guide researchers in developing new, better ones.