Learning Optimal Representations with the Decodable Information Bottleneck

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 33 (NeurIPS 2020)

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Yann Dubois, Douwe Kiela, David J. Schwab, Ramakrishna Vedantam


We address the question of characterizing and finding optimal representations for supervised learning. Traditionally, this question has been tackled using the Information Bottleneck, which compresses the inputs while retaining information about the targets, in a decoder-agnostic fashion. In machine learning, however, our goal is not compression but rather generalization, which is intimately linked to the predictive family or decoder of interest (e.g. linear classifier). We propose the Decodable Information Bottleneck (DIB) that considers information retention and compression from the perspective of the desired predictive family. As a result, DIB gives rise to representations that are optimal in terms of expected test performance and can be estimated with guarantees. Empirically, we show that the framework can be used to enforce a small generalization gap on downstream classifiers and to predict the generalization ability of neural networks.