Modality Competition: What Makes Joint Training of Multi-modal Network Fail in Deep Learning? (Provably)
Proceedings of the 39th International Conference on Machine Learning, PMLR 162:9226-9259, 2022.
Despite the remarkable success of deep multi-modal learning in practice, it has not been well-explained in theory. Recently, it has been observed that the best uni-modal network outperforms the jointly trained multi-modal network across different combinations of modalities on various tasks, which is counter-intuitive since multiple signals would bring more information (Wang et al., 2020). This work provides a theoretical explanation for the emergence of such performance gap in neural networks for the prevalent joint training framework. Based on a simplified data distribution that captures the realistic property of multi-modal data, we prove that for multi-modal late-fusion network with (smoothed) ReLU activation trained jointly by gradient descent, different modalities will compete with each other and only a subset of modalities will be learned by its corresponding encoder networks. We refer to this phenomenon as modality competition, and the losing modalities, which fail to be discovered, are the origins where the sub-optimality of joint training comes from. In contrast, for uni-modal networks with similar learning settings, we provably show that the networks will focus on learning modality-associated features. Experimentally, we illustrate that modality competition matches the intrinsic behavior of late-fusion joint training to supplement our theoretical results. To the best of our knowledge, our work is the first theoretical treatment towards the degenerating aspect of multi-modal learning in neural networks.