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Workshop: Workshop on Distribution Shifts: New Frontiers with Foundation Models

Context is Environment

Sharut Gupta · David Lopez-Paz · Stefanie Jegelka · Kartik Ahuja

Keywords: [ in-context learning ] [ Domain generalization ]

Abstract: Two lines of work are taking center stage in AI research. On the one hand, increasing efforts are being made to build models that generalize out-of-distribution (OOD). Unfortunately, a hard lesson so far is that no proposal convincingly outperforms a simple empirical risk minimization baseline. On the other hand, large language models (LLMs) have erupted as algorithms able to learn in-context, generalizing on-the-fly to the eclectic contextual circumstances. We argue that context is environment, and posit that in-context learning holds the key to better domain generalization. Via extensive theory and experiments, we show that paying attention to context$\unicode{x2013}\unicode{x2013}$unlabeled examples as they arrive$\unicode{x2013}\unicode{x2013}$allows our proposed In-Context Risk Minimization (ICRM) algorithm to zoom-in on the test environment risk minimizer, leading to significant OOD performance improvements.

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