Selective Pre-training for Private Fine-tuning

Da Yu, Sivakanth Gopi, Janardhan Kulkarni, Zinan Lin, Saurabh Naik, Tomasz Lukasz Religa, Jian Yin, Huishuai Zhang

Suppose we want to train text prediction models in email clients or word processors. The models must preserve the privacy of user data and adhere to a specific fixed size to meet memory and inference time requirements. We introduce a generic framework to solve this problem. Specifically, we are given a public dataset $D_\text{pub}$ and a private dataset $D_\text{priv}$ corresponding to a downstream task $T$. How should we pre-train a fixed-size model $M$ on $D_\text{pub}$ and fine-tune it on $D_\text{priv}$ such that performance of $M$ with respect to $T$ is maximized and $M$ satisfies differential privacy with respect to $D_\text{priv}$? We show that pre-training on a {\em subset} of dataset $D_\text{pub}$ that brings the public distribution closer to the private distribution is a crucial ingredient to maximize the transfer learning abilities of $M$ after pre-training, especially in the regimes where model sizes are relatively small. Besides performance improvements, our framework also shows that with careful pre-training and private fine-tuning, {\em smaller models} can match the performance of much larger models, highlighting the promise of differentially private training as a tool for model compression and efficiency.

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