IRM—when it works and when it doesn't: A test case of natural language inference

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

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Yana Dranker, He He, Yonatan Belinkov


Invariant Risk Minimization (IRM) is a recently proposed framework for out-of-distribution (o.o.d) generalization. Most of the studies on IRM so far have focused on theoretical results, toy problems, and simple models. In this work, we investigate the applicability of IRM to bias mitigation-a special case of o.o.d generalization-in increasingly naturalistic settings and deep models. Using natural language inference (NLI) as a test case, we start with a setting where both the dataset and the bias are synthetic, continue with a natural dataset and synthetic bias, and end with a fully realistic setting with natural datasets and bias. Our results show that in naturalistic settings, learning complex features in place of the bias proves to be difficult, leading to a rather small improvement over empirical risk minimization. Moreover, we find that in addition to being sensitive to random seeds, the performance of IRM also depends on several critical factors, notably dataset size, bias prevalence, and bias strength, thus limiting IRM's advantage in practical scenarios. Our results highlight key challenges in applying IRM to real-world scenarios, calling for a more naturalistic characterization of the problem setup for o.o.d generalization.