Keywords: continual learning, neural tangent kernel, statistical mechanics
Abstract: Sequential training from task to task is becoming one of the major objects in deep learning applications such as continual learning and transfer learning. Nevertheless, it remains unclear under what conditions the trained model's performance improves or deteriorates. To deepen our understanding of sequential training, this study provides a theoretical analysis of generalization performance in a solvable case of continual learning. We consider neural networks in the neural tangent kernel (NTK) regime that continually learn target functions from task to task, and investigate the generalization by using an established statistical mechanical analysis of kernel ridge-less regression. We first show characteristic transitions from positive to negative transfer. More similar targets above a specific critical value can achieve positive knowledge transfer for the subsequent task while catastrophic forgetting occurs even with very similar targets. Next, we investigate a variant of continual learning which supposes the same target function in multiple tasks. Even for the same target, the trained model shows some transfer and forgetting depending on the sample size of each task. We can guarantee that the generalization error monotonically decreases from task to task for equal sample sizes while unbalanced sample sizes deteriorate the generalization. We respectively refer to these improvement and deterioration as self-knowledge transfer and forgetting, and empirically confirm them in realistic training of deep neural networks as well.
One-sentence Summary: We analyze the generalization performance of continual learning in the NTK regime and identify key properties of knowledge transfer and forgetting.