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Self-Supervised Learning (SSL)

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  • Difficulty Level : Hard
  • Last Updated : 24 Mar, 2023
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In this article, we will learn a major type of machine learning model which is Self-Supervised Learning Algorithms. Usage of these algorithms has increased widely in the past times as the sizes of the model have increased up to billions of parameters and hence require a huge corpus of data to train the same.

What is Self-Supervised Learning?

Self-Supervised Learning is a deep learning methodology where a model is pre-trained using unlabelled data and the data labels are generated automatically, which are further used in subsequent iterations as ground truths. The fundamental idea for self-supervised learning is to create supervisory signals by making sense of the unlabeled data provided to it in an unsupervised fashion on the first iteration. Then, the model uses the high-confidence data labels among those generated to train the model in subsequent iterations like the supervised learning model via backpropagation. The only difference is, the data labels used as ground truths in every iteration are changed.

There are some popular learning techniques other than Self-Supervised Learning Algorithms as well:

Supervised Learning

In these types of machine learning algorithms, we have labeled data that we have some independent features and a target variable for the same which determines from which class it belongs.

Unsupervised Learning

In these algorithms, we have raw data without labels. The main task of the machine learning model is to identify the patterns present in the data at hand. This technique is also sometimes used to label the data because this technique is fast and efficient in terms of time and money.

Semi-Supervised Learning

Semi-Supervised or Semi Unsupervised? You are right this is a mixture of supervised and unsupervised machine-learning algorithms. We have a subset of the dataset labeled and its complement is unlabeled.

Reinforcement Learning

Reinforcement Learning (RL) is the science of decision-making. It is about learning the optimal behavior in an environment to obtain the maximum reward. In RL, the data is accumulated from machine learning systems that use a trial-and-error method. Data is not part of the input that we would find in supervised or unsupervised machine learning.

How to Train a Self-Supervised Learning Model in ML

  1. Select a property of the data to predict: To predict the next word in a sentence, the orientation of an object in an image, or the speaker of an audio clip.
  2. Define a loss function: The loss function measures the model’s performance on the task of predicting the property of the data. It should be designed to encourage the model to learn useful features and representations of the data that are relevant to the task.
  3. Train the model: The model is trained on a large dataset by minimizing the loss function. This is typically done using an optimization algorithm, such as stochastic gradient descent (SGD) or Adam.
  4. Fine-tune the model: Once the model has been trained, it can be fine-tuned on a specific task by adding a few labeled examples and fine-tuning the model’s weights using supervised learning techniques. This allows the model to learn task-specific features and further improve its performance on the target task.

Application of SSL in Computer Vision

Image and video recognition: Self-supervised learning has been used to improve the performance of image and video recognition tasks, such as object recognition, image classification, and video classification. For example, a self-supervised learning model might be trained to predict the location of an object in an image given the surrounding pixels to classify a video as depicting a particular action.

Application of SSL in Natural Language Processing

  • Language understanding: Self-supervised learning has been used to improve the performance of natural language processing (NLP) tasks, such as machine translation, language modeling, and text classification. For example, a self-supervised learning model might be trained to predict the next word in a sentence given the previous words, or to classify a sentence as positive or negative.
  • Speech recognition: Self-supervised learning has been used to improve the performance of speech recognition tasks, such as transcribing audio recordings into text. For example, a self-supervised learning model might be trained to predict the speaker of an audio clip based on the characteristics of their voice.

Self-Supervised Learning Techniques

  • Pretext tasks: Pretext tasks are auxiliary tasks designed to solve using the inherent structure of the data, but are also related to the main task. For example, the model might be trained on a pretext task of predicting the rotation of an image, with the goal of improving performance on the main task of image classification.
  • Contrastive learning: Contrastive Learning is a self-supervised learning technique that involves training a model to distinguish between a noisy version of the data to a clean version. The model is trained to distinguish between the two, with the goal of learning a robust representation of noise.

Advantages of Self-Supervised Learning

  • Reduced Reliance on Labeled Data: One of the main benefits of self-supervised learning is that it allows a model to learn useful features and representations of the data without the need for large amounts of labeled data. This can be particularly useful in situations where it is expensive or time-consuming to obtain labeled data, or where there is a limited amount of labeled data available.
  • Improved Generalization: Self-supervised learning can improve the generalization performance of a model, meaning that it is able to make more accurate predictions on unseen data. This is because self-supervised learning allows a model to learn from the inherent structure of the data, rather than just memorizing specific examples.
  • Transfer Learning: Self-supervised learning can be useful for transfer learning, which involves using a model trained on one task to improve performance on a related task. By learning useful features and representations of the data through self-supervised learning, a model can be more easily adapted to new tasks and environments.
  • Scalability: Self-supervised learning can be more scalable than supervised learning, as it allows a model to learn from a larger dataset without the need for human annotation. This can be particularly useful in situations where the amount of data is too large to be labeled by humans.

Limitations of Self-Supervised Learning

  • Quality of supervision signal: One of the main limitations of self-supervised learning is that the quality of the supervision signal can be lower than in supervised learning. This is because the supervision signal is derived from the data itself, rather than being explicitly provided by a human annotator. As a result, the supervision signal may be noisy or incomplete, which can lead to lower performance on the task.
  • Limited to certain types of tasks: Self-supervised learning may not be as effective for tasks where the data is more complex or unstructured.
  • The complexity of training: Some self-supervised learning techniques can be more complex to implement and train than supervised learning techniques. For example, contrastive learning and unsupervised representation learning can be more challenging to implement and tune than supervised learning methods.

Differences between Supervised, Unsupervised, and Self-Supervised Learning

Now let’s look at the differences between the three most common machine learning algorithms categories in brief.




Supervised learning is a type of machine learning where the model is trained on labeled data, meaning that the input data is accompanied by its corresponding correct output.  Unsupervised learning is a type of machine learning where the model is trained on unlabeled data, meaning that the input data does not have a corresponding correct output.  Self-supervised learning is a type of machine learning that falls between supervised and unsupervised learning. It is a form of unsupervised learning where the model is trained on unlabeled data, but the goal is to learn a specific task or representation of the data that can be used in a downstream supervised learning task. 
The goal of supervised learning is to learn a mapping from input data to the correct output.  The goal of unsupervised learning is to learn patterns or structures in the input data without the guidance of a labeled output.  In self-supervised learning, the model learns to predict certain properties of the input data, such as a missing piece or its rotation angle. This learned representation can then be used to initialize a supervised learning model, providing a good starting point for fine-tuning on a smaller labeled dataset.
Common examples of supervised learning include image classification, object detection, and Natural Language Processing tasks. Common examples of unsupervised learning include clustering, dimensionality reduction, and anomaly detection. A common example of self-supervised learning is the task of image representation learning, sentiment analysis, question answering, and machine translation. 

Overall, self-supervised learning has the potential to improve the performance and efficiency of machine learning systems greatly and is an active area in the research field.

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