On Characterizing the Trade-off in Invariant Representation Learning

Bashir Sadeghi · Sepehr Dehdashtian · Vishnu Boddeti


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Many applications of representation learning, such as privacy preservation, algorithmic fairness, and domain adaptation, desire explicit control over semantic information being discarded. This goal is formulated as satisfying two objectives: maximizing utility for predicting a target attribute while simultaneously being invariant (independent) to a known semantic attribute. Solutions to invariant representation learning (IRepL) problems lead to a trade-off between utility and invariance when they are competing. While existing works study bounds on this trade-off, two questions remain outstanding: 1) What is the exact trade-off between utility and invariance? and 2) What are the encoders (mapping the data to a representation) that achieve the trade-off, and how can we estimate it from training data? This paper addresses these questions for IRepLs in reproducing kernel Hilbert spaces (RKHS)s. Under the assumption that the distribution of a low-dimensional projection of high-dimensional data is approximately normal, we derive a closed-form solution for the global optima of the underlying optimization problem for encoders in RKHSs. This yields closed formulae for a near-optimal trade-off, corresponding optimal representation dimensionality, and the corresponding encoder(s). We also numerically quantify the trade-off on representative problems and compare them to those achieved by baseline IRepL algorithms.