Machine Learning

Lora Aroyo and Praveen Paritosh

The performance of machine learning (ML) models depends both on the learning algorithms, as well as the data used for training and evaluation. The role of the algorithms is well studied and the focus of a multitude of challenges, such as SQuAD, GLUE, ImageNet, and many others. In addition, there have been efforts to also improve the data, including a series of workshops addressing issues for ML evaluation. In contrast, research and challenges that focus on the data used for evaluation of ML models are not commonplace. Furthermore, many evaluation datasets contain items that are easy to evaluate, e.g., photos with a subject that is easy to identify, and thus they miss the natural ambiguity of real world context. The absence of ambiguous real-world examples in evaluation undermines the ability to reliably test machine learning performance, which makes ML models prone to develop “weak spots”, i.e., classes of examples that are difficult or impossible for a model to accurately evaluate, because that class of examples is missing from the evaluation set.

To address the problem of identifying these weaknesses in ML models, we recently launched the Crowdsourcing Adverse Test Sets for Machine Learning (CATS4ML) Data Challenge at HCOMP 2020 (open until 30 April, 2021 to researchers and developers worldwide). The goal of the challenge is to raise the bar in ML evaluation sets and to find as many examples as possible that are confusing or otherwise problematic for algorithms to process. CATS4ML relies on people’s abilities and intuition to spot new data examples about which machine learning is confident, but actually misclassifies.

What are ML “Weak Spots”?
There are two categories of weak spots: known unknowns and unknown unknowns. Known unknowns are examples for which a model is unsure about the correct classification. The research community continues to study this in a field known as active learning, and has found the solution to be, in very general terms, to interactively solicit new labels from people on uncertain examples. For example, if a model is not certain whether or not the subject of a photo is a cat, a person is asked to verify; but if the system is certain, a person is not asked. While there is room for improvement in this area, what is comforting is that the confidence of the model is correlated with its performance, i.e., one can see what the model doesn’t know.

Unknown unknowns, on the other hand, are examples where a model is confident about its answer, but is actually wrong. Efforts to proactively discover unknown unknowns (e.g., Attenberg 2015 and Crawford 2019) have helped uncover a multitude of unintended machine behaviours. In contrast to such approaches for the discovery of unknown unknowns, generative adversarial networks (GANs) generate unknown unknowns for image recognition models in the form of optical illusions for computers that cause deep learning models to make mistakes beyond human perception. While GANs uncover model exploits in the event of an intentional manipulation, real-world examples can better highlight a model’s failures in its day-to-day performance. These real-world examples are the unknown unknowns of interest to CATS4ML — the challenge aims to gather unmanipulated examples that humans can reliably interpret but on which many ML models would confidently disagree.

Machine Learning

Example illustrating how optical illusions for computers caused by adversarial noise help discover machine manipulated unknown unknowns for ML models (based on Brown 2018).

First Edition of CATS4ML Data Challenge: Open Images Dataset The CATS4ML Data Challenge focuses on visual recognition, using images and labels from the Open Images Dataset. The target images for the challenge are selected from the Open Images Dataset along with a set of 24 target labels from the same dataset. The challenge participants are invited to invent new and creative ways to explore this existing publicly available dataset and, focussed on a list of pre-selected target labels, discover examples of unknown unknowns for ML models.
Machine Learning

Examples from the Open Images Dataset as possible unknown unknowns for ML models.

CATS4ML is a complementary effort to FAIR’s recently introduced DynaBench research platform for dynamic data collection. Where DynaBench tackles issues with static benchmarks using ML models with humans in the loop, CATS4ML focuses on improving evaluation datasets for ML by encouraging the exploration of existing ML benchmarks for adverse examples that can be unknown unknowns. The results will help detect and avoid future errors, and also will give insights to model explainability.

In this way, CATS4ML aims to raise greater awareness of the problem by providing dataset resources that developers can use to uncover the weak spots of their algorithms. This will also inform researchers on how to create benchmark datasets for machine learning that are more balanced, diverse and socially aware.

Get Involved
We invite the global community of ML researchers and practitioners to join us in the effort of discovering interesting, difficult examples from the Open Images Dataset. Register on the challenge website, download the target images and labeled data, contribute the images you discover and join the competition for the winning participant!

To score points in this competition, participants should submit a set of image-label pairs that will be confirmed by human-in-the-loop raters, whose votes should be in disagreement with the average machine score for the label over a number of machine learning models.

An example of how a submitted image can score points. The same image can score as a false positive (Left) and as a false negative (Right) with two different labels. In both cases the human verification is in disagreement with the machine score. Participants score on submitted image-label pairs, which means that one and the same image can be an example of an ML unknown unknown for different labels.

The challenge is open until 30 April, 2021 to researchers and developers worldwide. To learn more about CATS4ML and how to join, please visit the challenge website.


The release of the CATS4ML Data Challenge has been possible thanks to the hard work of a lot of people including, but not limited to, the following (in alphabetical order of last name): Osman Aka, Ken Burke, Tulsee Doshi, Mig Gerard, Victor Gomes, Shahab Kamali, Igor Karpov, Devi Krishna, Daphne Luong, Carey Radebaugh, Jamie Taylor, Nithum Thain, Kenny Wibowo, Ka Wong, and Tong Zhou.

TracIn — A Simple Method to Estimate Training Data Influence

Frederick Liu and Garima Pruthi

The quality of a machine learning (ML) model’s training data can have a significant impact on its performance. One measure of data quality is the notion of influence, i.e., the degree to which a given training example affects the model and its predictive performance. And while influence is a well-known concept to ML researchers, the complexity behind deep learning models, coupled with their growing size, features and datasets, have made the quantification of influence difficult.

A few methods have been proposed recently to quantify influence. Some rely on changes in accuracy when retraining with one or several data points dropped, and some use established statistical methods, e.g., influence functions that estimate the impact of perturbing input points or representer methods that decompose a prediction into an importance weighted combination of training examples. Still other approaches require use of additional estimators, such as data valuation using reinforcement learning. Though these approaches are theoretically sound, their use in products has been limited by the resources needed to run them at scale or the additional burdens they place on training.

In “Estimating Training Data Influence by Tracing Gradient Descent”, published as a spotlight paper at NeurIPS 2020, we proposed TracIn, a simple scalable approach to tackle this challenge. The idea behind TracIn is straightforward — trace the training process to capture changes in prediction as individual training examples are visited. TracIn is effective in finding mislabeled examples and outliers from a variety of datasets, and is useful in explaining predictions in terms of training examples (as opposed to features) by assigning an influence score to each training example.

The Ideas Underlying TracIn
Deep learning algorithms are typically trained using an algorithm called stochastic gradient descent (SGD), or a variant of it. SGD operates by making multiple passes over the data and making modifications to the model parameters that locally reduce the loss (i.e., the model’s objective) with each pass. An example of this is demonstrated for an image classification task in the figure below, where the model’s task is to predict the subject of the test image on the left (“zucchini”). As the model progresses through training, it is exposed to various training examples that affect the loss on the test image, where the loss is a function both of the prediction score and the actual label — the higher the prediction score for zucchini, the lower the loss.

Estimating training data influence of the images on the right by tracing the loss change of the zucchini in the seatbelt image during training.

Suppose that the test example is known at training time and that the training process visited each training example one at a time. During the training, visiting a specific training example would change the model’s parameters, and that change would then modify the prediction/loss on the test example. If one could trace the training example through the process, then the change in loss or prediction on the test example could be attributed to the training example in question, where the influence of a training example would be the cumulative attribution across visits to the training example.

There are two types of relevant training examples. Those that reduce loss, like the images of zucchinis above, are called proponents, while those that increase loss, like the images of seatbelts, are called opponents. In the example above, the image labeled “sunglasses” is also a proponent, because it has a seatbelt in the image, but is labeled as “sunglasses,” driving the model to better distinguish between zucchini and seatbelts.

In practice, the test example is unknown at training time, a limitation that can be overcome by using the checkpoints output by the learning algorithm as a sketch of the training process. Another challenge is that the learning algorithm typically visits several points at once, not individually, which requires a method to disentangle the relative contributions of each training example. This can be done by applying pointwise loss gradients. Together, these two strategies capture the TracIn method, which can be reduced to the simple form of the dot product of loss gradients of the test and training examples, weighted by the learning rate, and summed across checkpoints.

The simple expression for TracIn influence. The dot product of loss gradients of training example (z) and test example (z’) is weighted by learning rate (ηi) at different checkpoints and summed up.

Alternatively, one could instead examine the influence on the prediction score, which would be useful if the test example has no label. This form simply requires the substitution of the loss gradient at the test example with the prediction gradient.

Computing Top Influence Examples
We illustrate the utility of TracIn by first calculating the loss gradient vector for some training data and a test example for a specific classification — an image of a chameleon — and then leveraging a standard k-nearest neighbors library to retrieve the top proponents and opponents. The top opponents indicate the chameleon’s ability to blend in! For comparison, we also show the k nearest neighbors with embeddings from the penultimate layer. Proponents are images that are not only similar, but also belong to the same class, and opponents are similar images but in a different class. Note that there isn’t an explicit enforcement on whether proponents or opponents belong to the same class.

Top row: Top proponents and opponents of influence vectors. Bottom row: Most similar and dissimilar examples of embedding vectors from the penultimate layer.

The simplistic breakdown of the loss of the test example into training example influences given by TracIn also suggests that the loss (or prediction) from any gradient descent based neural model can be expressed as a sum of similarities in the space of gradients. Recent work has demonstrated that this functional form is similar to that of a kernel, implying that this gradient similarity described here can be applied to other similarity tasks, like clustering.

In this case, TracIn can be used as a similarity function within a clustering algorithm. To bound the similarity metric so that it can be converted to a distance measure (1 – similarity), we normalize the gradient vectors to have unit norm. Below, we apply TracIn clustering on images of zucchini to obtain finer clusters.

Machine Learning

Finer clusters within Zucchini images using TracIn similarity. Each row is a cluster with zucchini in similar forms within the cluster: cross-sectionally sliced zucchini (top), piles of zucchinis (middle), and zucchinis on pizzas (bottom).

Identifying Outliers with Self-Influence
Finally, we can also use TracIn to identify outliers that exhibit a high self-influence, i.e., the influence of a training point on its own prediction. This happens either when the example is mislabeled or rare, both of which make it difficult for the model to generalize over the example. Below are some examples with high self-influence.

Mislabeled examples. Assigned labels are striked out, correct labels are at bottom.

Left: A rare oscilloscope example with just the oscillations, and no instrument in the image gets high self-influence. Right: Other common oscilloscope images have the scope with knobs and wires. These have a low self-influence.

Having no requirement other than being trained using SGD (or related variants), TracIn is task-independent and applicable to a variety of models. For example, we have used TracIn to study training data for a deep learning model used to parse queries to the Google Assistant, queries of the kind “set my alarm for 7AM”. We were intrigued to see that the top opponent for the query “disable my alarm” with an alarm active on the device, was “disable my timer”, also with an alarm active on the device. This suggests that Assistant users often interchange the words “timer” and “alarm”. TracIn helped us interpret the Assistant data.

More examples can be found in the paper, including a regression task on structured data and a number of text classification tasks.


TracIn is a simple, easy-to-implement, scalable way to compute the influence of training data examples on individual predictions or to find rare and mislabeled training examples. For implementation references of the method, you can find a link to code examples for images from the github linked in the paper.


The NeurIPS paper was jointly co-authored with Satyen Kale and Mukund Sundararajan (corresponding author). A special thanks to Binbin Xiong for providing various conceptual and implementation insights. We also thank Qiqi Yan and Salem Haykal for numerous discussions. Images throughout this post sourced from Getty Images.

Machine Learning for Computer Architecture

Amir Yazdanbakhsh

One of the key contributors to recent machine learning (ML) advancements is the development of custom accelerators, such as Google TPUs and Edge TPUs, which significantly increase available compute power unlocking various capabilities such as AlphaGo, RankBrain, WaveNets, and Conversational Agents. This increase can lead to improved performance in neural network training and inference, enabling new possibilities in a broad range of applications, such as vision, language, understanding, and self-driving cars.

To sustain these advances, the hardware accelerator ecosystem must continue to innovate in architecture design and acclimate to rapidly evolving ML models and applications. This requires the evaluation of many different accelerator design points, each of which may not only improve the compute power, but also unravel a new capability. These design points are generally parameterized by a variety of hardware and software factors (e.g., memory capacity, number of compute units at different levels, parallelism, interconnection networks, pipelining, software mapping, etc.). This is a daunting optimization task, due to the fact that the search space is exponentially large1 while the objective function (e.g., lower latency and/or higher energy efficiency) is computationally expensive to evaluate through simulations or synthesis, making identification of feasible accelerator configurations challenging .

In “Apollo: Transferable Architecture Exploration”, we present the progress of our research on ML-driven design of custom accelerators. While recent work has demonstrated promising results in leveraging ML to improve the low-level floorplanning process (in which the hardware components are spatially laid out and connected in silicon), in this work we focus on blending ML into the high-level system specification and architectural design stage, a pivotal contributing factor to the overall performance of the chip in which the design elements that control the high-level functionality are established. Our research shows how ML algorithms can facilitate architecture exploration and suggest high-performing architectures across a range of deep neural networks, with domains spanning image classification, object detection, OCR and semantic segmentation.

Architecture Search Space and Workloads
The objective in architecture exploration is to discover a set of feasible accelerator parameters for a set of workloads, such that a desired objective function (e.g., the weighted average of runtime) is minimized under an optional set of user-defined constraints. However, the manifold of architecture search generally contains many points for which there is no feasible mapping from software to hardware. Some of these design points are known a priori and can be bypassed by formulating them as optimization constraints by the user (e.g., in the case of an area budget2 constraint, the total memory size must not pass over a predefined limit). However, due to the interplay of the architecture and compiler and the complexity of the search space, some of the constraints may not be properly formulated into the optimization, and so the compiler may not find a feasible software mapping for the target hardware. These infeasible points are not easy to formulate in the optimization problem, and are generally unknown until the whole compiler pass is performed. As such, one of main challenges for architecture exploration is to effectively sidestep the infeasible points for efficient exploration of the search space with a minimum number of cycle-accurate architecture simulations.

The following figure shows the overall architecture search space of a target ML accelerator. The accelerator contains a 2D array of processing elements (PE), each of which performs a set of arithmetic computations in a single instruction multiple data (SIMD) manner. The main architectural components of each PE are processing cores that include multiple compute lanes for SIMD operations. Each PE has shared memory (PE Memory) across all their compute cores, which is mainly used to store model activations, partial results, and outputs, while individual cores feature memory that is mainly used for storing model parameters. Each core has multiple compute lanes with multi-way multiply-accumulate (MAC) units. The results of model computations at each cycle are either stored back in the PE memory for further computation or are offloaded back into the DRAM.

Machine Learning

Overview of the template-based ML accelerator used for architecture exploration.

Optimization Strategies In this study, we explored four optimization strategies in the context of architecture exploration:
  1. Random: Samples the architecture search space uniformly at random.
  2. Vizier: Uses Bayesian optimization for the exploration in the search space in which the evaluation of the objective function is expensive (e.g. hardware simulation, which can take hours to complete). Using a collection of sampled points from the search space, the Bayesian optimization forms a surrogate function, usually represented by a Gaussian process, that approximates the manifold of the search space. Guided by the value of the surrogate function, the Bayesian optimization algorithm decides, in an exploration and exploitation trade-off, whether to sample more from the promising regions in the manifold (exploitation) or sample more from the unseen regions in the search space (exploration). Then, the optimization algorithm uses these newly sampled points and further updates the surrogate function to better model the target search space. Vizier implements expected improvement as its core acquisition function. Here we use Vizier (safe), a variant for constrained optimization that guides the optimization process to avoid suggesting trials that do not satisfy the given constraints.
  3. Evolutionary: Performs evolutionary search using a population of k individuals, where the genome of each individual corresponds to a sequence of discretized accelerator configurations. New individuals are generated by selecting for each individual two parents from the population using tournament selecting, recombining their genomes with some crossover rate, and mutating the recombined genome with some probability.
  4. Population-based black-box optimization (P3BO): Uses an ensemble of optimization methods, including evolutionary and model-based, which has been shown to increase sample-efficiency and robustness. The sampled data are exchanged between optimization methods in the ensemble, and optimizers are weighted by their performance history to generate new configurations. In our study, we use a variant of P3BO in which the hyper-parameters of the optimizers are dynamically updated using evolutionary search.
Accelerator Search Space Embeddings To better visualize the effectiveness of each optimization strategy in navigating the accelerator search space, we use t-distributed stochastic neighbor embedding (t-SNE) to map the explored configurations into a two-dimensional space across the optimization horizon. The objective (reward) for all the experiments is defined as the throughput (inference/second) per accelerator area. In the figures below, the x and y axes indicate the t-SNE components (embedding 1 and embedding 2) of the embedding space. The star and circular markers show the infeasible (zero reward) and feasible design points, respectively, with the size of the feasible points corresponding to their reward.

As expected, the random strategy searches the space in a uniformly distributed way and eventually finds very few feasible points in the design space.

Machine Learning

Visualization presenting the t-SNE of the explored design points (~4K) by random optimization strategy (max reward = 0.96). The maximum reward points (red cross markers) are highlighted at the last frame of the animation.

Compared to the random sampling approach, the Vizier default optimization strategy strikes a good balance between exploring the search space and finding the design points with higher rewards (1.14 vs. 0.96). However, this approach tends to get stuck in infeasible regions and, while it does find a few points with the maximum reward (indicated by the red cross markers), it finds few feasible points during the last iterations of exploration.

Machine Learning

As above, with the Vizier (default) optimization strategy (max reward = 1.14). The maximum reward points (red cross markers) are highlighted at the last frame of the animation.

The evolutionary optimization strategy, on the other hand, finds feasible solutions very early in the optimization and assemble clusters of feasible points around them. As such, this approach mostly navigates the feasible regions (the green circles) and efficiently sidesteps the infeasible points. In addition, the evolutionary search is able to find more design options with maximum reward (the red crosses). This diversity in the solutions with high reward provides flexibility to the designer in exploring various architectures with different design trade-offs.

Machine Learning

As above, with the evolutionary optimization strategy (max reward = 1.10). The maximum reward points (red cross markers) are highlighted at the last frame of the animation.

Finally, the population-based optimization method (P3BO) explores the design space in a more targeted way (regions with high reward points) in order to find optimal solutions. The P3BO strategy finds design points with the highest reward in search spaces with tighter constraints (e.g., a larger number of infeasible points), showing its effectiveness in navigating search spaces with large numbers of infeasible points.

Machine Learning

As above, with the P3BO optimization strategy (max reward = 1.13). The maximum reward points (red cross markers) are highlighted at the last frame of the animation.

Architecture Exploration under Different Design Constraints
We also studied the benefits of each optimization strategy under different area budget constraints, 6.8 mm2, 5.8 mm2 and 4.8 mm2. The following violin plots show the full distribution of the maximum achievable reward at the end of optimization (after ten runs each with 4K trials) across the studied optimization strategies. The wider sections represent a higher probability of observing feasible architecture configurations at a particular given reward. This implies that we favor the optimization algorithm that yields increased width at the points with higher reward (higher performance).

The two top-performing optimization strategies for architecture exploration are evolutionary and P3BO, both in terms of delivering solutions with high reward and robustness across multiple runs. Looking into different design constraints, we observe that as one tightens the area budget constraint, the P3BO optimization strategy yields more high performing solutions. For example, when the area budget constraint is set to 5.8 mm2, P3BO finds design points with a reward (throughput / accelerator area) of 1.25 outperforming all the other optimization strategies. The same trend is observed when the area budget constraint is set to 4.8 mm2, a slightly better reward is found with more robustness (less variability) across multiple runs.

Machine Learning

Violin plot showing the full distribution of the maximum achievable reward in ten runs across the optimization strategies after 4K trial evaluations under an area budget of 6.8 mm2. The P3BO and Evolutionary algorithm yield larger numbers of high-performing designs (wider sections). The x and y axes indicate the studied optimization algorithms and the geometric mean of speedup (reward) over the baseline accelerator, respectively.

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As above, under an area budget of 5.8 mm2.

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As above, under an area budget of 4.8 mm2.


While Apollo presents the first step towards better understanding of accelerator design space and building more efficient hardware, inventing accelerators with new capabilities is still an uncharted territory and a new frontier. We believe that this research is an exciting path forward to further explore ML-driven techniques for architecture design and co-optimization (e.g., compiler, mapping, and scheduling) across the computing stack to invent efficient accelerators with new capabilities for the next generation of applications.


This work was performed by Amir Yazdanbakhsh, Christof Angermueller, and Berkin Akin . We would like to also thank Milad Hashemi, Kevin Swersky, James Laudon, Herman Schmit, Cliff Young, Yanqi Zhou, Albin Jones, Satrajit Chatterjee, Ravi Narayanaswami, Ray (I-Jui) Sung, Suyog Gupta, Kiran Seshadri, Suvinay Subramanian, Matthew Denton, and the Vizier team for their help and support.