Skip to yearly menu bar Skip to main content


Active Learning Helps Pretrained Models Learn the Intended Task

Alex Tamkin · Dat Nguyen · Salil Deshpande · Jesse Mu · Noah Goodman

Hall J (level 1) #107

Keywords: [ alignment ] [ pretrained models ] [ few shot learning ] [ Active Learning ]


Models can fail in unpredictable ways during deployment due to task ambiguity, when multiple behaviors are consistent with the provided training data. An example is an object classifier trained on red squares and blue circles: when encountering blue squares, the intended behavior is undefined. We investigate whether pretrained models are better active learners, capable of disambiguating between the possible tasks a user may be trying to specify. Intriguingly, we find that better active learning is an emergent property of the pretraining process: pretrained models require up to 5 times fewer labels when using uncertainty-based active learning, while non-pretrained models see no or even negative benefit. We find these gains come from an ability to select examples with attributes that disambiguate the intended behavior, such as rare product categories or atypical backgrounds. These attributes are far more linearly separable in pretrained model's representation spaces vs non-pretrained models, suggesting a possible mechanism for this behavior.

Chat is not available.