Learning to Predict Population-Level Label Distributions

  • Tong Liu Rochester Institute of Technology
  • Akash Venkatachalam Rochester Institute of Technology
  • Pratik Sanjay Bongale Gleason Corporation
  • Christopher M. Homan Rochester Institute of Technology


As machine learning (ML) plays an ever increasing role in commerce, government, and daily life, reports of bias in ML systems against groups traditionally underrepresented in computing technologies have also increased. The problem appears to be extensive, yet it remains challenging even to fully assess the scope, let alone fix it. A fundamental reason is that ML systems are typically trained to predict one correct answer or set of answers; disagreements between the annotators who provide the training labels are resolved by either discarding minority opinions (which may correspond to demographic minorities or not) or presenting all opinions flatly, with no attempt to quantify how different answers might be distributed in society. Label distribution learning associates for each data item a probability distribution over the labels for that item. While such distributions may be representative of minority beliefs or not, they at least preserve diversities of opinion that conventional learning hides or ignores and represent a fundamental first step toward ML systems that can model diversity. We introduce a strategy for learning label distributions with only five-to-ten labels per item—a range that is typical of supervised learning datasets—by aggregating human-annotated labels over multiple, similarly rated data items. Our results suggest that specific label aggregation methods can help provide reliable, representative predictions at the population level.