On the Importance of Feature Separability in Predicting Out-Of-Distribution Error

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

Bibtex Paper Supplemental


RENCHUNZI XIE, Hongxin Wei, Lei Feng, Yuzhou Cao, Bo An


Estimating the generalization performance is practically challenging on out-of-distribution (OOD) data without ground-truth labels. While previous methods emphasize the connection between distribution difference and OOD accuracy, we show that a large domain gap not necessarily leads to a low test accuracy. In this paper, we investigate this problem from the perspective of feature separability empirically and theoretically. Specifically, we propose a dataset-level score based upon feature dispersion to estimate the test accuracy under distribution shift. Our method is inspired by desirable properties of features in representation learning: high inter-class dispersion and high intra-class compactness. Our analysis shows that inter-class dispersion is strongly correlated with the model accuracy, while intra-class compactness does not reflect the generalization performance on OOD data. Extensive experiments demonstrate the superiority of our method in both prediction performance and computational efficiency.