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Workshop: Workshop on Machine Learning Safety

Do Domain Generalization Methods Generalize Well?

Akshay Mehra · Bhavya Kailkhura · Pin-Yu Chen · Jihun Hamm


Domain Generalization (DG) methods use data from multiple related source domains to learn models whose performance does not degrade on unseen domains at test time. Many DG algorithms rely on reducing the divergence between the source distributions in a representation space to potentially align unseen domains close to the sources. These algorithms are motivated by the analytical works that explain generalization to unseen domains based on their distributional distance (e.g., Wasserstein distance) to the sources. However, we show that the accuracy of a DG model varies significantly on unseen domains equidistant from the sources in the learned representation space. This makes it hard to gauge the generalization performance of DG models only based on their performance on benchmark datasets. Thus, we study the worst-case loss of a DG model at a particular distance from the sources and propose an evaluation methodology based on distributionally robust optimization that efficiently computes the worst-case loss on all distributions within a Wasserstein ball around the sources. Our results show that models trained with popular DG methods incur a high worst-case loss even close to the sources which show their lack of generalization to unseen domains. Moreover, we observe a large gap between the worst-case and the empirical losses of distributions at the same distance, showing the performance of the DG models on benchmark datasets is not representative of their performance on unseen domains. Thus, our (target) data-independent and worst-case loss-based methodology highlights the poor generalization performance of current DG models and provides insights beyond empirical evaluation on benchmark datasets for improving these models.

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