Making Graph Neural Networks Worth It for Low-Data Molecular Machine Learning

Aneesh Pappu, Brooks Paige

Graph neural networks have become very popular for machine learning on molecules due to the expressive power of their learnt representations. However, molecular machine learning is a classically low-data regime and it isn't clear that graph neural networks can avoid overfitting in low-resource settings. In contrast, fingerprint methods are the traditional standard for low-data environments due to their reduced number of parameters and manually engineered features. In this work, we investigate whether graph neural networks are competitive in small data settings compared to the parametrically 'cheaper' alternative of fingerprint methods. When we find that they are not, we explore pretraining and the meta-learning method MAML (and variants FO-MAML and ANIL) for improving graph neural network performance by transfer learning from related tasks. We find that MAML and FO-MAML do enable the graph neural network to outperform models based on fingerprints, providing a path to using graph neural networks even in settings with severely restricted data availability. In contrast to previous work, we find ANIL performs worse that other meta-learning approaches in this molecule setting. Our results suggest two reasons: molecular machine learning tasks may require significant task-specific adaptation, and distribution shifts in test tasks relative to train tasks may contribute to worse ANIL performance.

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