Keywords: self-supervised learning, dataset imbalance, representation learning, long-tailed recognition
Abstract: Self-supervised learning (SSL) is a scalable way to learn general visual representations since it learns without labels. However, large-scale unlabeled datasets in the wild often have long-tailed label distributions, where we know little about the behavior of SSL. In this work, we systematically investigate self-supervised learning under dataset imbalance. First, we find via extensive experiments that off-the-shelf self-supervised representations are already more robust to class imbalance than supervised representations. The performance gap between balanced and imbalanced pre-training with SSL is significantly smaller than the gap with supervised learning, across sample sizes, for both in-domain and, especially, out-of-domain evaluation. Second, towards understanding the robustness of SSL, we hypothesize that SSL learns richer features from frequent data: it may learn label-irrelevant-but-transferable features that help classify the rare classes and downstream tasks. In contrast, supervised learning has no incentive to learn features irrelevant to the labels from frequent examples. We validate this hypothesis with semi-synthetic experiments as well as rigorous mathematical analyses on a simplified setting. Third, inspired by the theoretical insights, we devise a re-weighted regularization technique that consistently improves the SSL representation quality on imbalanced datasets with several evaluation criteria, closing the small gap between balanced and imbalanced datasets with the same number of examples.
One-sentence Summary: We show that self-supervised pre-training yields representations more robust to dataset imbalance, because it captures more diverse features from the frequent classes, and can be improved further by re-weighting regularization.
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