On the Theory of Transfer Learning: The Importance of Task Diversity

NeurIPS 2020

On the Theory of Transfer Learning: The Importance of Task Diversity

Dec 06, 2020
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We provide new statistical guarantees for transfer learning via representation learning--when transfer is achieved by learning a feature representation shared across different tasks. This enables learning on new tasks using far less data than is required to learn them in isolation. Formally, we consider $t+1$ tasks parameterized by functions of the form $f_j \circ h$ in a general function class $\mathcal{F} \circ \mathcal{H}$, where each $f_j$ is a task-specific function in $\mathcal{F}$ and $h$ is the shared representation in $\mathcal{H}$. Letting $C(\cdot)$ denote the complexity measure of the function class, we show that for diverse training tasks (1) the sample complexity needed to learn the shared representation across the first $t$ training tasks scales as $C(\mathcal{H}) + t C(\mathcal{F})$, despite no explicit access to a signal from the feature representation and (2) with an accurate estimate of the representation, the sample complexity needed to learn a new task scales only with $C(\mathcal{F})$. Our results depend upon a new general notion of task diversity--applicable to models with general tasks, features, and losses--as well as a novel chain rule for Gaussian complexities. Finally, we exhibit the utility of our general framework in several models of importance in the literature. Speakers: Nilesh Tripuraneni, Michael Jordan, Chi Jin

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