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Connect, Not Collapse: Explaining Contrastive Learning for Unsupervised Domain Adaptation

Kendrick Shen · Robbie Jones · Ananya Kumar · Sang Michael Xie · Jeff Z. HaoChen · Tengyu Ma · Percy Liang

Hall E #317

Keywords: [ DL: Robustness ] [ DL: Self-Supervised Learning ]


We consider unsupervised domain adaptation (UDA), where labeled data from a source domain (e.g., photos) and unlabeled data from a target domain (e.g., sketches) are used to learn a classifier for the target domain. Conventional UDA methods (e.g., domain adversarial training) learn domain-invariant features to generalize from the source domain to the target domain. In this paper, we show that contrastive pre-training, which learns features on unlabeled source and target data and then fine-tunes on labeled source data, is competitive with strong UDA methods. However, we find that contrastive pre-training does not learn domain-invariant features, diverging from conventional UDA intuitions. We show theoretically that contrastive pre-training can learn features that vary subtantially across domains but still generalize to the target domain, by disentangling domain and class information. We empirically validate our theory on benchmark vision datasets.

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