Transfer learning seeks to improve the generalization performance of a target task by exploiting the knowledge learned from a related source task. Central questions include deciding what information one should transfer and when transfer can be beneficial. The latter question is related to the so-called negative transfer phenomenon, where the transferred source information actually reduces the generalization performance of the target task. This happens when the two tasks are sufficiently dissimilar. In this paper, we present a theoretical analysis of transfer learning by studying a pair of related perceptron learning tasks. Despite the simplicity of our model, it reproduces several key phenomena observed in practice. Specifically, our asymptotic analysis reveals a phase transition from negative transfer to positive transfer as the similarity of the two tasks moves past a well-defined threshold.
Double Double Descent: On Generalization Errors in Transfer Learning between Linear Regression Tasks
We study the transfer learning process between two linear regression problems. An important and timely special case is when the regressors are overparameterized and perfectly interpolate their training data. We examine a parameter transfer mechanism whereby a subset of the parameters of the target task solution are constrained to the values learned for a related source task. We analytically characterize the generalization error of the target task in terms of the salient factors in the transfer learning architecture, i.e., the number of examples available, the number of (free) parameters in each of the tasks, the number of parameters transferred from the source to target task, and the correlation between the two tasks. Our non-asymptotic analysis shows that the generalization error of the target task follows a two-dimensional double descent trend (with respect to the number of free parameters in each of the tasks) that is controlled by the transfer learning factors. Our analysis points to specific cases where the transfer of parameters is beneficial. Specifically, we show that transferring a specific set of parameters that generalizes well on the respective part of the source task can soften the demand on the task correlation level that is required for successful transfer more »
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