Field-wise Learning for Multi-field Categorical Data

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 33 (NeurIPS 2020)

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Zhibin Li, Jian Zhang, Yongshun Gong, Yazhou Yao, Qiang Wu


We propose a new method for learning with multi-field categorical data. Multi-field categorical data are usually collected over many heterogeneous groups. These groups can reflect in the categories under a field. The existing methods try to learn a universal model that fits all data, which is challenging and inevitably results in learning a complex model. In contrast, we propose a field-wise learning method leveraging the natural structure of data to learn simple yet efficient one-to-one field-focused models with appropriate constraints. In doing this, the models can be fitted to each category and thus can better capture the underlying differences in data. We present a model that utilizes linear models with variance and low-rank constraints, to help it generalize better and reduce the number of parameters. The model is also interpretable in a field-wise manner. As the dimensionality of multi-field categorical data can be very high, the models applied to such data are mostly over-parameterized. Our theoretical analysis can potentially explain the effect of over-parametrization on the generalization of our model. It also supports the variance constraints in the learning objective. The experiment results on two large-scale datasets show the superior performance of our model, the trend of the generalization error bound, and the interpretability of learning outcomes. Our code is available at