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Workshop: OPT 2023: Optimization for Machine Learning

Utility-based Perturbed Gradient Descent: An Optimizer for Continual Learning

Mohamed Elsayed · Rupam Mahmood


Deep representation learning methods struggle with continual learning, suffering from both catastrophic forgetting of useful units and loss of plasticity, often due to rigid and unuseful units. While many methods address these two issues separately, only a few currently deal with both simultaneously. In this paper, we introduce Utility-based Perturbed Gradient Descent (UPGD) as a novel approach for the continual learning of representations. UPGD combines gradient updates with perturbations, where it applies smaller modifications to more useful units, protecting them from forgetting, and larger modifications to less useful units, rejuvenating their plasticity. We adopt the challenging setup of streaming learning as the testing ground and design continual learning problems with hundreds of non-stationarities and unknown task boundaries. We show that many existing methods suffer from at least one of the issues, predominantly manifested by their decreasing accuracy over tasks. On the other hand, UPGD continues to improve performance and surpasses all methods in all problems, being demonstrably capable of addressing both issues.

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