How can we build agents that keep learning from experience, quickly and efficiently, after their initial training? Here we take inspiration from the main mechanism of learning in biological brains: synaptic plasticity, carefully tuned by evolution to produce efficient lifelong learning. We show that plasticity, just like connection weights, can be optimized by gradient descent in large (millions of parameters) recurrent networks with Hebbian plastic connections. First, recurrent plastic networks with more than two million parameters can be trained to memorize and reconstruct sets of novel, high-dimensional 1000+ pixels natural images not seen during training. Crucially, traditional non-plastic recurrent networks fail to solve this task. Furthermore, trained plastic networks can also solve generic meta-learning tasks such as the Omniglot task, with competitive results and little parameter overhead. Finally, in reinforcement learning settings, plastic networks outperform a non-plastic equivalent in a maze exploration task. We conclude that differentiable plasticity may provide a powerful novel approach to the learning-to-learn problem.
Biological plastic neural networks are systems of extraordinary computational capabilities shaped by evolution, development, and lifetime learning. The interplay of these elements leads to the emergence of adaptive behavior and intelligence. Inspired by such intricate natural phenomena, Evolved Plastic Artificial Neural Networks (EPANNs) use simulated evolution in-silico to breed plastic neural networks with a large variety of dynamics, architectures, and plasticity rules: these artificial systems are composed of inputs, outputs, and plastic components that change in response to experiences in an environment. These systems may autonomously discover novel adaptive algorithms, and lead to hypotheses on the emergence of biological adaptation. EPANNs have seen considerable progress over the last two decades. Current scientific and technological advances in artificial neural networks are now setting the conditions for radically new approaches and results. In particular, the limitations of hand-designed networks could be overcome by more flexible and innovative solutions. This paper brings together a variety of inspiring ideas that define the field of EPANNs. The main methods and results are reviewed. Finally, new opportunities and developments are presented.
Humans and animals have the ability to continually acquire and fine-tune knowledge throughout their lifespan. This ability is mediated by a rich set of neurocognitive functions that together contribute to the early development and experience-driven specialization of our sensorimotor skills. Consequently, the ability to learn from continuous streams of information is crucial for computational learning systems and autonomous agents (inter)acting in the real world. However, continual lifelong learning remains a long-standing challenge for machine learning and neural network models since the incremental acquisition of new skills from non-stationary data distributions generally leads to catastrophic forgetting or interference. This limitation represents a major drawback also for state-of-the-art deep neural network models that typically learn representations from stationary batches of training data, thus without accounting for situations in which the number of tasks is not known a priori and the information becomes incrementally available over time. In this review, we critically summarize the main challenges linked to continual lifelong learning for artificial learning systems and compare existing neural network approaches that alleviate, to different extents, catastrophic interference. Although significant advances have been made in domain-specific continual lifelong learning with neural networks, extensive research efforts are required for the development of general-purpose artificial intelligence and autonomous agents. We discuss well-established research and recent methodological trends motivated by experimentally observed lifelong learning factors in biological systems. Such factors include principles of neurosynaptic stability-plasticity, critical developmental stages, intrinsically motivated exploration, transfer learning, and crossmodal integration.
Catastrophic forgetting/interference is a critical problem for lifelong learning machines, which impedes the agents from maintaining their previously learned knowledge while learning new tasks. Neural networks, in particular, suffer plenty from the catastrophic forgetting phenomenon. Recently there has been several efforts towards overcoming catastrophic forgetting in neural networks. Here, we propose a biologically inspired method toward overcoming catastrophic forgetting. Specifically, we define an attention-based selective plasticity of synapses based on the cholinergic neuromodulatory system in the brain. We define synaptic importance parameters in addition to synaptic weights and then use Hebbian learning in parallel with backpropagation algorithm to learn synaptic importances in an online and seamless manner. We test our proposed method on benchmark tasks including the Permuted MNIST and the Split MNIST problems and show competitive performance compared to the state-of-the-art methods.
In the domain of machine learning, Neural Memory Networks (NMNs) have recently achieved impressive results in a variety of application areas including visual question answering, trajectory prediction, object tracking, and language modelling. However, we observe that the attention based knowledge retrieval mechanisms used in current NMNs restricts them from achieving their full potential as the attention process retrieves information based on a set of static connection weights. This is suboptimal in a setting where there are vast differences among samples in the data domain; such as anomaly detection where there is no consistent criteria for what constitutes an anomaly. In this paper, we propose a plastic neural memory access mechanism which exploits both static and dynamic connection weights in the memory read, write and output generation procedures. We demonstrate the effectiveness and flexibility of the proposed memory model in three challenging anomaly detection tasks in the medical domain: abnormal EEG identification, MRI tumour type classification and schizophrenia risk detection in children. In all settings, the proposed approach outperforms the current state-of-the-art. Furthermore, we perform an in-depth analysis demonstrating the utility of neural plasticity for the knowledge retrieval process and provide evidence on how the proposed memory model generates sparse yet informative memory outputs.