Lifelong Machine Learning in the Big Data Era - Tutorial at IJCAI 2015

Zhiyuan Chen and Bing Liu

Second Edition: "Lifelong Machine Learning." by Z. Chen and B. Liu, Morgan & Claypool, August 2018 (1st edition, 2016).
  • Added three new chapters: (4) Continual Learning and Catastrophic Forgetting, (5) Open-world Learning, (8) Continuous Knowledge Learning in Chatbots
  • Introduced the concept of learning on the job or learning while working.
  • Updated and/or reorganized the other chapters.
  • Download the first edition, Lifelong Machine Learning, Nov 2016.

  • A newer tutorial at KDD-2016: Lifelong Machine Learning Tutorial, (Title: lifelong machine learning and computer reading the Web), by Zhiyuan Chen, Estevam Hruschka, and Bing Liu on August 13, 2016, San Francisco, USA.

    IJCAI-2015 Tutorial Slides --- (My Lifelong Learning Research Page)

    This tutorial covers the important problem and existing techniques of lifelong machine learning (or lifelong learning) and discusses opportunities and challenges of big data for lifelong machine learning. The tutorial has been given at the 24th International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence (IJCAI 2015), July 25-31, 2015, Buenos Aires, Argentina.


    Lifelong machine learning (LML) aims to design and develop computational systems and algorithms that learn as humans do, i.e., retaining the results learned in the past, abstracting knowledge from them, and using the knowledge to help future learning and problem solving. The rationale is that when faced with a new situation, we humans use our previous experience and knowledge to help deal with and learn from the new situation. We learn and accumulate knowledge continuously. It is essential to incorporate this capability in an AI system to make it versatile, holistic, and intelligent. Current research in lifelong learning is still in its infancy. Through this tutorial we would like to introduce the existing techniques and to encourage researchers to work on this problem. We also want to highlight the tremendous opportunities offered by big data to make major progresses in lifelong learning and in AI.

    Lifelong Learning vs. Transfer Learning vs. Multitask Learning

    In the tutorial, several people asked about the differences of transfer learning, multitask learning, and lifelong learning. The descriptions of these concepts in the literature are quite confusing as they are closely related and overlap. In a paper about lifelong learning, the authors may propose a technique that is actually for multitask learning or transfer learning. Let me give my view. But first, let me state the general definitions given in the existing literature based on my understanding.

    1. Single Task Learning: Giving a set of learning tasks, t1 , t2 , …, t(n), learn each task independently. This is the most commonly used machine learning paradigm in practice.
    2. Multitask Learning: Giving a set of learning tasks, t1 , t2 , …, t(n), co-learn all tasks simultaneously. In other words, the learner optimizes the learning/performance across all of the n tasks through some shared knowledge. This may also be called batch multitask learning. Online multitask learning is more like lifelong learning (see below).
    3. Transfer Learning (or Domain Adaptation): Giving a set of source domains/tasks t1, t2, …, t(n-1) and the target domain/task t(n), the goal is to learn well for t(n) by transferring some shared knowledge from t1, t2, …, t(n-1) to t(n). Although this definition is quite general, almost the entire literature on transfer learning is about supervised transfer learning and the number of source domains is only one (i.e., n=2). It also assumes that there are labeled training data for the source domain and few or no labeled examples in the target domain/task, but there are a large amount of unlabeled data in t(n). Note that the goal of transfer learning is to learn well only for the target task. Learning of the source task(s) is irrelevant.
    4. Lifelong Learning: The learner has performed learning on a sequence of tasks, from t1 to t(n-1). When faced with the nth task, it uses the relevant knowledge gained in the past n-1 tasks to help learning for the nth task. Based on this definition, lifelong learning is similar to the general transfer learning involving multiple source domains or tasks. However, some researchers have a narrower definition of lifelong learning. They regard it as the learning process that aims to learn well on the future task t(n) without seeing any future task data so far. This means that the system should generate some prior knowledge from the past observed tasks to help new/future task learning without observing any information from the future task t(n). The future task learning simply uses the knowledge. This definition makes lifelong learning different from both transfer learning and multitask learning. It is different from transfer learning because transfer learning identifies prior knowledge using the target/future task labeled and unlabeled data. It is different from multitask learning because lifelong learning does not jointly optimize the learning of the other tasks, which multitask learning does.

    My View on Lifelong Learning: I like the more general definition of lifelong learning above. The relevant prior knowledge may be generated from the past n-1 tasks with or without considering the nth task data. But I would like to stress the importance of big data and the growth of the number of tasks for lifelong learning. That is, for lifelong learning to be meaningful, the number of past tasks must be large (i.e., n – 1 should be large) and growing so that a large amount of knowledge can be accumulated. The future task can just find and use any relevant pieces of knowledge learned in the past to help learning the new task t(n). In this way, the learning becomes truly lifelong and autonomous. When n = 2, it is the mainstream transfer learning or domain adaptation, which cannot be called lifelong learning because it does not have a sequence of past tasks and thus not lifelong. Also the human user has to manually identify two tasks that are very similar to each other in order to perform meaningful transfer. Based on this view, multitask learning is not lifelong learning either because lifelong leanring does not jointly optimize all new and past tasks.

    Date and Place

    Date: July 25 (Afternoon), 2015.
    Place: IJCAI'15, Room 438 in the New Building of Facultad de Ciencias Económicas.

    Target Audience

    Researchers, graduate students, and practitioners who are interested in machine learning, big data and Artificial Intelligence. The tutorial will particularly benefit people who intend to develop machine learning techniques and applications that can keep improving themselves after seeing more and diverse data in order to achieve “real” intelligence.

    Prerequisite Knowledge

    Basic knowledge of machine learning or data mining.