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.
Humans excel at continually acquiring and fine-tuning knowledge over sustained time spans. This ability, typically referred to as lifelong learning, is crucial for artificial agents interacting in real-world, dynamic environments where i) the number of tasks to be learned is not pre-defined, ii) training samples become progressively available over time, and iii) annotated samples may be very sparse. In this paper, we propose a dual-memory self-organizing system that learns spatiotemporal representations from videos. The architecture draws inspiration from the interplay of the hippocampal and neocortical systems in the mammalian brain argued to mediate the complementary tasks of quickly integrating specific experiences, i.e., episodic memory (EM), and slowly learning generalities from episodic events, i.e., semantic memory (SM). The complementary memories are modeled as recurrent self-organizing neural networks: The EM quickly adapts to incoming novel sensory observations via competitive Hebbian Learning, whereas the SM progressively learns compact representations by using task-relevant signals to regulate intrinsic levels of neurogenesis and neuroplasticity. For the consolidation of knowledge, trajectories of neural reactivations are periodically replayed to both networks. We analyze and evaluate the performance of our approach with the CORe50 benchmark dataset for continuous object recognition from videos. We show that the proposed approach significantly outperforms current (supervised) methods of lifelong learning in three different incremental learning scenarios, and that due to the unsupervised nature of neural network self-organization, our approach can be used in scenarios where sample annotations are sparse.