Military intelligent systems are expected to continually acquire new skills as they conduct missions on battlefields around the world without forgetting skills that have already been trained. “For instance, while conducting an urban operation, a wheeled robot may learn new navigation parameters for dense urban cities, but it still needs to operate efficiently in a previously encountered environment like a forest,” says Dr. Mary Anne Fields, program manager for Intelligent Systems at Army Research Office, an element of U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command’s Army Research Lab.
In order to cope with this challenge, a U.S. Army-funded project has created a new framework for deep neural networks that allows artificial intelligence systems to better learn new tasks while forgetting less of what they have learned in previous tasks.
The North Carolina State University researchers have also demonstrated that using the framework to learn a new task can make the AI better at performing previous tasks, a phenomenon called backward transfer.
The research team proposed a new framework, called Learn to Grow, for continual learning, which decouples network structure learning and model parameter learning. In experimental testing it outperformed previous approaches to continual learning.
“Deep neural network AI systems are designed for learning narrow tasks,” said Xilai Li, a co-lead author of the paper and a Ph.D. candidate at NC State. “As a result, one of several things can happen when learning new tasks, systems can forget old tasks when learning new ones, which is called catastrophic forgetting. Systems can forget some of the things they knew about old tasks, while not learning to do new ones as well.. Continual learning, also called lifelong-learning or learning-to-learn, is trying to address the issue.”
Think of deep neural networks as a pipe filled with multiple layers. Raw data goes into the top of the pipe, and task outputs come out the bottom. Every “layer” in the pipe is a computation that manipulates the data in order to help the network accomplish its task, such as identifying objects in a digital image. There are multiple ways of arranging the layers in the pipe, which correspond to different “architectures” of the network, according to ecnmag.com.
When asking a deep neural network to learn a new task, the Learn to Grow framework begins by conducting something called an explicit neural architecture optimization via search. What this means is that as the network comes to each layer in its system, it can decide to do one of four things: skip the layer; use the layer in the same way that previous tasks used it; attach a lightweight adapter to the layer, which modifies it slightly; or create an entirely new layer.
Once this is complete, the network uses the new topology to train itself on how to accomplish the task — just like any other deep learning AI system.