Meta-Learning: Learning to Learn Fast

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2021-07-21 09:00:07

Nov 30, 2018 by Lilian Weng meta-learning  long-read 

Meta-learning, also known as “learning to learn”, intends to design models that can learn new skills or adapt to new environments rapidly with a few training examples. There are three common approaches: 1) learn an efficient distance metric (metric-based); 2) use (recurrent) network with external or internal memory (model-based); 3) optimize the model parameters explicitly for fast learning (optimization-based).

A good machine learning model often requires training with a large number of samples. Humans, in contrast, learn new concepts and skills much faster and more efficiently. Kids who have seen cats and birds only a few times can quickly tell them apart. People who know how to ride a bike are likely to discover the way to ride a motorcycle fast with little or even no demonstration. Is it possible to design a machine learning model with similar properties — learning new concepts and skills fast with a few training examples? That’s essentially what meta-learning aims to solve.

We expect a good meta-learning model capable of well adapting or generalizing to new tasks and new environments that have never been encountered during training time. The adaptation process, essentially a mini learning session, happens during test but with a limited exposure to the new task configurations. Eventually, the adapted model can complete new tasks. This is why meta-learning is also known as learning to learn.

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