Keywords: contrastive learning, long-tail data, self-supervised learning, temperature, analysis
TL;DR: Simple temperature schedules in self-supervised contrastive learning improve representation learning on long-tail distributions
Abstract: Most approaches for self-supervised learning (SSL) are optimised on curated balanced datasets, e.g. ImageNet, despite the fact that natural data usually exhibits long-tail distributions. In this paper, we analyse the behaviour of one of the most popular variants of SSL, i.e. contrastive methods, on imbalanced data. In particular, we investigate the role of the temperature parameter $\tau$ in the contrastive loss, by analysing the loss through the lens of average distance maximisation, and find that a large $\tau$ emphasises group-wise discrimination, whereas a small $\tau$ leads to a higher degree of instance discrimination. While $\tau$ has thus far been treated exclusively as a constant hyperparameter, in this work, we propose to employ a dynamic $\tau$ and show that a simple cosine schedule can yield significant improvements in the learnt representations. Such a schedule results in a constant `task switching' between an emphasis on instance discrimination and group-wise discrimination and thereby ensures that the model learns both group-wise features, as well as instance-specific details. Since frequent classes benefit from the former, while infrequent classes require the latter, we find this method to consistently improve separation between the classes in long-tail data without any additional computational cost.
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