In machine learning, a shortcut solution occurs when the model relies on a simple characteristic of a dataset to make a decision, rather than learning the true essence of the data, which can lead to inaccurate predictions. For example, a model might learn to identify images of cows by focusing on the green grass that appears in the photos, rather than the more complex shapes and patterns of the cows.
A new study by researchers at MIT explores the problem of shortcuts in a popular machine-learning method and proposes a solution that can prevent shortcuts by forcing the model to use more data in its decision-making. By removing the simpler characteristics the model is focusing on, the researchers force it to focus on more complex features of the data that it hadn’t been considering. Then, by asking the model to solve the same task two ways — once using those simpler features, and then also using the complex features it has now learned to identify — they reduce the tendency for shortcut solutions and boost the performance of the model. One potential application of this work is to enhance the effectiveness of machine learning models that are used to identify disease in medical images. Shortcut solutions in this context could lead to false diagnoses and have dangerous implications for patients.
“It is still difficult to tell why deep networks make the decisions that they do, and in particular, which parts of the data these networks choose to focus upon when making a decision. If we can understand how shortcuts work in further detail, we can go even farther to answer some of the fundamental but very practical questions that are really important to people who are trying to deploy these networks,” says Joshua Robinson, a PhD student in the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) and lead author of the paper.
Robinson wrote the paper with his advisors, senior author Suvrit Sra, the Esther and Harold E. Edgerton Career Development Associate Professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS) and a core member of the Institute for Data, Systems, and Society (IDSS) and the Laboratory for Information and Decision Systems; and Stefanie Jegelka, the X-Consortium Career Development Associate Professor in EECS and a member of CSAIL and IDSS; as well as University of Pittsburgh assistant professor Kayhan Batmanghelich and PhD students Li Sun and Ke Yu. The research will be presented at the Conference on Neural Information Processing Systems in December.
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