Teaching an Active Learner with Contrastive Examples

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 34 pre-proceedings (NeurIPS 2021)

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Chaoqi Wang, Adish Singla, Yuxin Chen


We study the problem of active learning with the added twist that the learner is assisted by a helpful teacher. We consider the following natural interaction protocol: At each round, the learner proposes a query asking for the label of an instance $x^q$, the teacher provides the requested label $\{x^q, y^q\}$ along with explanatory information to guide the learning process. In this paper, we view this information in the form of an additional contrastive example ($\{x^c, y^c\}$) where $x^c$ is picked from a set constrained by $x^q$ (e.g., dissimilar instances with the same label). Our focus is to design a teaching algorithm that can provide an informative sequence of contrastive examples to the learner to speed up the learning process. We show that this leads to a challenging sequence optimization problem where the algorithm's choices at a given round depend on the history of interactions. We investigate an efficient teaching algorithm that adaptively picks these contrastive examples. We derive strong performance guarantees for our algorithm based on two problem-dependent parameters and further show that for specific types of active learners (e.g., a generalized binary search learner), the proposed teaching algorithm exhibits strong approximation guarantees. Finally, we illustrate our bounds and demonstrate the effectiveness of our teaching framework via two numerical case studies.