Oxford Applied and Theoretical Machine Learning Group

**TLDR**: In *Active Learning* we use a “human in the loop” approach to data labelling,
reducing the amount of data that needs to be labelled drastically, and
making machine learning applicable when labelling costs would be too high otherwise.
In our paper
*practical* method for choosing batches of informative points in Deep Active Learning which
avoids labelling redundancies that plague existing methods. Our approach is based on information theory and expands
on useful intuitions. We have also made our implementation available on GitHub at
https://github.com/BlackHC/BatchBALD.

Using deep learning and a large labelled dataset, we are able to obtain excellent performance on a range
of important tasks. Often, however, we only have access to a large *unlabelled* dataset. For example, it is easy to acquire lots of
stock photos, but labelling these images is time consuming and expensive.
This excludes many applications from benefiting from recent advances in
deep learning.

In Active Learning we only ask experts to label the most informative data points instead of labelling the whole dataset upfront. The model is then retrained using these newly acquired data points and all previously labelled data points. This process is repeated until we are happy with the accuracy of our model.

To perform Active Learning, we need to define some *measure of informativeness*,
which is often done in the form of an *acquisition function*. This measure is called an “acquisition function”
because the score it computes determines which data points we want to acquire.
We send unlabelled data points which maximise the acquisition function to an expert and ask for labels.

Usually, the informativeness of unlabelled points is assessed individually,
with one popular acquisition function being BALD

In our work, we efficiently expand the notion of acquisition functions to batches (sets) of data points and develop a new
acquisition function that takes into account similarities between data points when acquiring a batch. For this, we take the
commonly-used
**BALD** acquisition function and extend it to **BatchBALD** in a grounded way,
which we will explain below.

However, knowing how to score batches of points is not sufficient!
We still have the challenge of *finding* the batch with the highest score.
The naive solution would be to try all subsets of data points,
but that wouldn’t work because there are exponentially many possibilities.

For our acquisition function, we found that it satisfies a very useful property called *submodularity* which allows us to follow a
*greedy approach*: selecting points one by one, and conditioning each new point on all
points previously added to the batch. Using the submodularity property, we can show that this greedy approach finds a subset that is “good enough” (i.e. $1-1/e$-approximate).

Overall, this leads our acquisition function BatchBALD to outperform BALD: it needs fewer iterations and fewer data points to reach high accuracy for similar batch sizes, significantly reducing redundant model retraining and expert labelling, hence cost and time.

Moreover, it is empirically as good as, but much faster than, the optimal choice of acquiring individual points sequentially, where we retrain the model after every single point acquisition.

Before we explain our acquisition function, however, we need to understand what the BALD acquisition function does.

BALD stands for “Bayesian Active Learning by Disagreement”

As the “Bayesian” in the name tells us, this assumes a Bayesian setting which allows us to capture uncertainties in the predictions of our model. In a Bayesian model, the parameters are not just numbers (point estimates) that get updated during training but probability distributions.

This allows the model to quantify its beliefs: a wide distributions for a parameter means that the model is uncertain about its true value, whereas a narrow one quantifies high certainty.

BALD scores a data point $x$ based on how well the model’s predictions $y$ inform us about the model parameters $\boldsymbol{\omega}$. For this, it computes the mutual information $\mathbb{I}(y, \boldsymbol{\omega})$. Mutual information is well-known in information theory and captures the information overlap between quantities.

When using the BALD acquisition function to select a *batch* of $b$ points,
we select the top-$b$ points with highest BALD scores, which is standard practice in the field.
This is the same as maximising the following batch acquisition function
$a_{\mathrm{BALD}}\left(\left\{x_{1}, \ldots, x_{b}\right\}, \mathrm{p}\left(\boldsymbol{\omega} |
\mathcal{D}_{\mathrm{train}}\right)\right)
:=\sum_{i=1}^{b} \mathbb{I}\left(y_{i} ; \boldsymbol{\omega} |
x_{i}, \mathcal{D}_{\mathrm{train}}\right)$
with
$\left\{x_{1}^{*}, \ldots, x_{b}^{*}\right\} :=
\underset{\left\{x_{1}, \ldots, x_{b}\right\} \subseteq \mathcal{D}_{\text { pool }}}{\arg \max }
a_{\mathrm{BALD}}\left(\left\{\boldsymbol{x}_{1}, \ldots, \boldsymbol{x}_{b}\right\}, \mathrm{p}\left(\boldsymbol{\omega} | \mathcal{D}_{\text { train }}\right)\right).$
Intuitively, if we imagine the information content of the predictions given some data points and the model
parameters as sets in the batch case, the mutual information can be seen as intersection of these sets, which
captures the notion that mutual information measures the information overlap.

In fact, Yeung

In order to avoid double-counting, we want to compute the quantity
$\mu^*(\bigcup_i y_i \cap \boldsymbol{\omega})$
, as depicted in figure 6, which corresponds to the mutual information
$\mathbb{I}(y_1,…,y_b ; \boldsymbol{\omega} | x_1,…,x_b, \mathcal{D}_\mathrm{train})$
between the *joint* of the $y_i$ and
$\boldsymbol{\omega}$
:
$a_{\mathrm{BatchBALD}}\left(\left\{x_{1}, \ldots, x_{b}\right\}, \mathrm{p}\left(\boldsymbol{\omega} |
\mathcal{D}_{\mathrm{train}}\right)\right) := \mathbb{I}\left(y_{1}, \ldots, y_{b} ; \boldsymbol{\omega} | x_{1},
\ldots, x_{b}, \mathcal{D}_{\mathrm{train}}\right).$
Expanding the definition of the mutual information, we obtain the difference between the following two terms:
$a_{\mathrm{BatchBALD}}\left(\left\{x_{1}, \ldots, x_{n}\right\}, \mathrm{p}(\boldsymbol{\omega} |
\mathcal{D}_{\mathrm{train}})\right)
= \mathbb{H}\left(y_{1}, \ldots, y_{n}\right | x_{1}, \ldots, x_{b},
\mathcal{D}_{\mathrm{train}})-\mathbb{E}_{\mathrm{p}(\boldsymbol{\omega} | \mathcal{D}_{\mathrm{train}}
)}\left[\mathbb{H}\left(y_{1}, \ldots, y_{n} | x_{1}, \ldots, x_{b}, \boldsymbol{\omega}\right)\right].$
The first term captures the general uncertainty of the model. The second term captures the expected uncertainty
for a given draw of the model parameters.

We can see that the score is going to be large when the model has different explanations for the data point that it is confident about individually (yielding a small second term) but the predictions are disagreeing with each other (yielding a large first term), hence the “by Disagreement” in the name.

Now to determine which data points to acquire, we are going to use submodularity.

Submodularity tells us that there are diminishing returns: selecting two points increases the score more than just
adding either one of them individually but less than the separate improvements together:

Given a function $f: \Omega \to \mathbb{R}$, we call $f$ submodular, if:
$f(A \cup \{x, y\}) - f(A) \le
\left ( f(A \cup \{x\}) - f(A) \right ) +
\left ( f(A \cup \{y\}) - f(A) \right ),$
for all $A \subseteq \Omega$ and elements $x,y \in \Omega$.

We show in appendix A of the paper that our acquisition function fulfils this property.
Nemhauser et al.

The greedy algorithm starts with an empty batch $A = \{\}$ and computes $a_{\mathrm{BatchBALD}}(A \cup \{x\})$ for all unlabelled data points, adds the highest-scoring $x$ to $A$ and repeats this process until $A$ is of acquisition size.

This is explained in more detail in the paper.

We implement Bayesian neural networks using MC dropout *using the same sampled model parameters*.

To see why, we have investigated how the scores change with different sets of sampled model parameters being used in MC dropout inference in figure 7.

Without consistent MC dropout, scores would be sampled using different sets of sampled model parameters, losing function correlations between the $y_i$’s for near-by $x_i$’s, and would essentially be no different than random acquisition given the spread of their scores.

We have run experiments on classifying EMNIST, which is a dataset of handwritten letters and digits consisting of 47 classes and 120000 data points.

We can show improvement over BALD which performs worse (even compared to random acquisition!) when acquiring large batches:

This is because compared to BatchBALD and random, BALD actively selects redundant points. To understand this better, we can look at the acquired class labels and compute the entropy of their distribution. The higher the entropy, the more diverse the acquired labels are:

We can also look at the actual distribution of acquired classes
at the end of training, and
see
that BALD undersamples some classes while BatchBALD manages to pick data points from different classes more
uniformly
(without knowing the classes, of course).
**Figure 14:** *Histogram of acquired class labels on EMNIST.*
BatchBALD left, random acquisition center, and BALD right. Classes are sorted by number of acquisitions.
Several EMNIST classes are underrepresented in BALD and random acquisition while BatchBALD acquires classes
more uniformly.
The histograms were created from all acquired points.

To see how much better BatchBALD copes with pathological cases, we also experimented with a version of MNIST that
we
call **Repeated MNIST**.
It is simply MNIST repeated 3 time with some added Gaussian noise and shows how BALD falls into a trap where picking the top $b$
individual points is detrimental because there are too many similar points.
**Figure 15:** *Performance on Repeated MNIST.*
BALD, BatchBALD, Var Ratios, Mean STD and random acquisition: acquisition size 10 with 10 MC dropout samples.

We also played around with different acquisition sizes and found that on MNIST, BatchBALD can even acquire 40 points at a time with little loss of data efficiency while BALD deteriorates quickly.

We found it quite surprising that a standard acquisition function, used widely in active learning,
performed worse even compared to a random baseline, when evaluated on batches of data.
We enjoyed digging into the core of the problem, trying to understand *why* it failed,
which led to some new insights about the way we use information theory tools in the field.
In many ways, the true lesson here is that when something fails — pause and think.

- BatchBALD: Efficient and Diverse Batch Acquisition for Deep Bayesian Active Learning

Kirsch, A., van Amersfoort, J. and Gal, Y., 2019. - Bayesian active learning for classification and preference learning

Houlsby, N., Huszar, F., Ghahramani, Z. and Lengyel, M., 2011. arXiv preprint arXiv:1112.5745. - A new outlook on Shannon's information measures

Yeung, R.W., 1991. IEEE transactions on information theory, Vol 37(3), pp. 466--474. IEEE. - An analysis of approximations for maximizing submodular set functions—I

Nemhauser, G.L., Wolsey, L.A. and Fisher, M.L., 1978. Mathematical programming, Vol 14(1), pp. 265--294. Springer. - Dropout as a Bayesian approximation: Representing model uncertainty in deep learning

Gal, Y. and Ghahramani, Z., 2016. international conference on machine learning, pp. 1050--1059.

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