Understanding Deep Contrastive Learning via Coordinate-wise Optimization

Conference on Neural Information Processing Systems (NeurIPS)


We show that Contrastive Learning (CL) under a broad family of loss functions (including InfoNCE) has a unified formulation of coordinate-wise optimization on the network parameter θ and pairwise importance α, where the max player θ learns representation for contrastiveness, and the min playerα puts more weights on pairs of distinct samples that share similar representations. The resulting formulation, called α-CL, unifies not only various existing contrastive losses, which differ by how sample-pair importance αis constructed, but also is able to extrapolate to give novel contrastive losses beyond popular ones, opening a new avenue of contrastive loss design. These novel losses yield comparable (or better) performance on CIFAR10, STL-10 and CIFAR-100 than classic InfoNCE. Furthermore, we also analyze the max player in detail: we prove that with fixed α, max player is equivalent to Principal Component Analysis (PCA) for deep linear network, and almost all local minima are global and rank-1, recovering optimal PCA solutions. Finally, we extend our analysis on max player to 2-layer ReLU networks, showing that its fixed points can have higher ranks.

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