Continual learning in recurrent neural networks

Benjamin Ehret · Christian Henning · Maria Cervera · Alexander Meulemans · Johannes von Oswald · Benjamin F Grewe

Keywords: [ Continual Learning ] [ Recurrent Neural Networks ]


While a diverse collection of continual learning (CL) methods has been proposed to prevent catastrophic forgetting, a thorough investigation of their effectiveness for processing sequential data with recurrent neural networks (RNNs) is lacking. Here, we provide the first comprehensive evaluation of established CL methods on a variety of sequential data benchmarks. Specifically, we shed light on the particularities that arise when applying weight-importance methods, such as elastic weight consolidation, to RNNs. In contrast to feedforward networks, RNNs iteratively reuse a shared set of weights and require working memory to process input samples. We show that the performance of weight-importance methods is not directly affected by the length of the processed sequences, but rather by high working memory requirements, which lead to an increased need for stability at the cost of decreased plasticity for learning subsequent tasks. We additionally provide theoretical arguments supporting this interpretation by studying linear RNNs. Our study shows that established CL methods can be successfully ported to the recurrent case, and that a recent regularization approach based on hypernetworks outperforms weight-importance methods, thus emerging as a promising candidate for CL in RNNs. Overall, we provide insights on the differences between CL in feedforward networks and RNNs, while guiding towards effective solutions to tackle CL on sequential data.

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