Characterizing the Impacts of Semi-supervised Learning for Weak Supervision

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 36 (NeurIPS 2023) Main Conference Track

Bibtex Paper


Jeffrey Li, Jieyu Zhang, Ludwig Schmidt, Alexander J. Ratner


Labeling training data is a critical and expensive step in producing high accuracy ML models, whether training from scratch or fine-tuning. To make labeling more efficient, two major approaches are programmatic weak supervision (WS) and semi-supervised learning (SSL). More recent works have either explicitly or implicitly used techniques at their intersection, but in various complex and ad hoc ways. In this work, we define a simple, modular design space to study the use of SSL techniques for WS more systematically. Surprisingly, we find that fairly simple methods from our design space match the performance of more complex state-of-the-art methods, averaging a 3 p.p. increase in accuracy/F1-score across 8 standard WS benchmarks. Further, we provide practical guidance on when different components are worth their added complexity and training costs. Contrary to current understanding, we find using SSL is not necessary to obtain the best performance on most WS benchmarks but is more effective when: (1) end models are smaller, and (2) WS provides labels for only a small portion of training examples.