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Oral
Correct-N-Contrast: a Contrastive Approach for Improving Robustness to Spurious Correlations
Michael Zhang · Nimit Sohoni · Hongyang Zhang · Chelsea Finn · Christopher Re

Spurious correlations pose a major challenge for robust machine learning. Models trained with empirical risk minimization (ERM) may learn to rely on correlations between class labels and spurious attributes, leading to poor performance on data groups without these correlations. This is challenging to address when the spurious attribute labels are unavailable. To improve worst-group performance on spuriously correlated data without training attribute labels, we propose Correct-N-Contrast (CNC), a contrastive approach to directly learn representations robust to spurious correlations. As ERM models can be good spurious attribute predictors, CNC works by (1) using a trained ERM model’s outputs to identify samples with the same class but dissimilar spurious features, and (2) training a robust model with contrastive learning to learn similar representations for these samples. To support CNC, we introduce new connections between worst-group error and a representation alignment loss that CNC aims to minimize. We empirically observe that worst-group error closely tracks with alignment loss, and prove that the alignment loss over a class helps upper-bound the class's worst-group vs. average error gap. On popular benchmarks, CNC reduces alignment loss drastically, and achieves state-of-the-art worst-group accuracy by 3.6% average absolute lift. CNC is also competitive with oracle methods that require group labels.

Author Information

Michael Zhang (Stanford University)
Nimit Sohoni (Stanford University)
Hongyang Zhang (Northeastern University)
Chelsea Finn (Stanford)

Chelsea Finn is an Assistant Professor in Computer Science and Electrical Engineering at Stanford University. Finn's research interests lie in the capability of robots and other agents to develop broadly intelligent behavior through learning and interaction. To this end, her work has included deep learning algorithms for concurrently learning visual perception and control in robotic manipulation skills, inverse reinforcement methods for learning reward functions underlying behavior, and meta-learning algorithms that can enable fast, few-shot adaptation in both visual perception and deep reinforcement learning. Finn received her Bachelor's degree in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at MIT and her PhD in Computer Science at UC Berkeley. Her research has been recognized through the ACM doctoral dissertation award, the Microsoft Research Faculty Fellowship, the C.V. Ramamoorthy Distinguished Research Award, and the MIT Technology Review 35 under 35 Award, and her work has been covered by various media outlets, including the New York Times, Wired, and Bloomberg. Throughout her career, she has sought to increase the representation of underrepresented minorities within CS and AI by developing an AI outreach camp at Berkeley for underprivileged high school students, a mentoring program for underrepresented undergraduates across four universities, and leading efforts within the WiML and Berkeley WiCSE communities of women researchers.

Christopher Re (Stanford University)

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