Compositional Generalization in Unsupervised Compositional Representation Learning: A Study on Disentanglement and Emergent Language


Deep learning models struggle with compositional generalization, i.e. the ability to recognize or generate novel combinations of observed elementary concepts. In hopes of enabling compositional generalization, various unsupervised learning algorithms have been proposed with inductive biases that aim to induce compositional structure in learned representations (e.g. disentangled representation and emergent language learning). In this work, we evaluate these unsupervised learning algorithms in terms of how well they enable compositional generalization. Specifically, our evaluation protocol focuses on whether or not it is easy to train a simple model on top of the learned representation that generalizes to new combinations of compositional factors. We systematically study three unsupervised representation learning algorithms - β-VAE, β-TCVAE, and emergent language (EL) autoencoders - on two datasets that allow directly testing compositional generalization. We find that directly using the bottleneck representation with simple models and few labels may lead to worse generalization than using representations from layers before or after the learned representation itself. In addition, we find that the previously proposed metrics for evaluating the levels of compositionality are not correlated with actual compositional generalization in our framework. Surprisingly, we find that increasing pressure to produce a disentangled representation produces representations with worse generalization, while representations from EL models show strong compositional generalization. Taken together, our results shed new light on the compositional generalization behavior of different unsupervised learning algorithms with a new setting to rigorously test this behavior, and suggest the potential benefits of delevoping EL learning algorithms for more generalizable representations.

Zhenlin Xu
Zhenlin Xu
Ph.D. in Computer Science

My research interests include medical image analysis, computer vision and machine learning.

Marc Niethammer
Marc Niethammer
Professor of Computer Science

My research interests include image registration, image segmentation, shape analysis, machine learning, and biomedical applications.