Characterizing and Avoiding Negative Transfer

Zirui Wang, Zihang Dai, Barnabas Poczos, Jaime Carbonell; Proceedings of the IEEE/CVF Conference on Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition (CVPR), 2019, pp. 11293-11302


When labeled data is scarce for a specific target task, transfer learning often offers an effective solution by utilizing data from a related source task. However, when transferring knowledge from a less related source, it may inversely hurt the target performance, a phenomenon known as negative transfer. Despite its pervasiveness, negative transfer is usually described in an informal manner, lacking rigorous definition, careful analysis, or systematic treatment. This paper proposes a formal definition of negative transfer and analyzes three important aspects thereof. Stemming from this analysis, a novel technique is proposed to circumvent negative transfer by filtering out unrelated source data. Based on adversarial networks, the technique is highly generic and can be applied to a wide range of transfer learning algorithms. The proposed approach is evaluated on six state-of-the-art deep transfer methods via experiments on four benchmark datasets with varying levels of difficulty. Empirically, the proposed method consistently improves the performance of all baseline methods and largely avoids negative transfer, even when the source data is degenerate.

Related Material

[pdf] [supp]
author = {Wang, Zirui and Dai, Zihang and Poczos, Barnabas and Carbonell, Jaime},
title = {Characterizing and Avoiding Negative Transfer},
booktitle = {Proceedings of the IEEE/CVF Conference on Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition (CVPR)},
month = {June},
year = {2019}