Workshop: Workshop on Distribution Shifts: Connecting Methods and Applications

Task Modeling: Approximating Multitask Predictions for Cross-Task Transfer

Dongyue Li · Huy Nguyen · Hongyang Zhang


We study the problem of learning a target task when data samples from several auxiliary source tasks are available. Examples of this problem appear in multitask learning, where several tasks are combined jointly, and weak supervision, where multiple programmatic labels are generated for each sample. Because of task data's heterogeneity, negative interference is a critical challenge for solving this problem. Previous works have measured first-order task affinity as an effective metric, yet it becomes less accurate for approximating higher-order transfers. We propose a procedure called task modeling to model first- and higher-order transfers. This procedure samples subsets of source tasks and estimates surrogate functions to approximate multitask predictions. We show theoretical and empirical results that task models can be estimated in nearly-linear time in the number of tasks and accurately approximate multitask predictions. Thus, the target task's performance can be optimized using task models to select source tasks. We validate this approach on various datasets and performance metrics. Our method increases accuracy up to 3.6% over existing methods on five text classification tasks with noisy supervision sources. Additionally, task modeling can be applied to group robustness and fairness metrics. Ablation studies show that task models can accurately predict whether or not a set of up to four source tasks transfer positively to the target task.

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