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Language Models as Black-Box Optimizers for Vision-Language Models

Shihong Liu · Samuel Yu · Zhiqiu Lin · Deepak Pathak · Deva Ramanan

Arch 4A-E Poster #296
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Thu 20 Jun 10:30 a.m. PDT — noon PDT


Vision-language models (VLMs) pre-trained on web-scale datasets have demonstrated remarkable capabilities on downstream tasks when fine-tuned with minimal data. However, many VLMs rely on proprietary data and are not open-source, which restricts the use of white-box approaches for fine-tuning. As such, we aim to develop a black-box approach to optimize VLMs through natural language prompts, thereby avoiding the need to access model parameters, feature embeddings, or even output logits. We propose employing chat-based LLMs to search for the best text prompt for VLMs. Specifically, we adopt an automatic "hill-climbing" procedure that converges to an effective prompt by evaluating the performance of current prompts and asking LLMs to refine them based on textual feedback, all within a conversational process without human-in-the-loop. In a challenging 1-shot image classification setup, our simple approach surpasses the white-box continuous prompting method (CoOp) by an average of 1.5% across 11 datasets including ImageNet. Our approach also outperforms both human-engineered and LLM-generated prompts. We highlight the advantage of conversational feedback that incorporates both positive and negative prompts, suggesting that LLMs can utilize the implicit "gradient" direction in textual feedback for a more efficient search. In addition, we find that the text prompts generated through our strategy are not only more interpretable but also transfer well across different VLM architectures in a black-box manner. Lastly, we demonstrate our framework on a state-of-the-art black-box VLM (DALLE-3) for text-to-image optimization.

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