Meta-Learning: from Few-Shot Learning to Rapid Reinforcement Learning

ICML 2019 Tutorial


In recent years, high-capacity models, such as deep neural networks, have enabled very powerful machine learning techniques in domains where data is plentiful. However, domains where data is scarce have proven challenging for such methods because high-capacity function approximators critically rely on large datasets for generalization. This can pose a major challenge for domains ranging from supervised medical image processing to reinforcement learning where real-world data collection (e.g., for robots) poses a major logistical challenge. Meta-learning or few-shot learning offers a potential solution to this problem: by learning to learn across data from many previous tasks, few-shot meta-learning algorithms can discover the structure among tasks to enable fast learning of new tasks.

The objective of this tutorial is to provide a unified perspective of meta-learning: teaching the audience about modern approaches, describing the conceptual and theoretical principles surrounding these techniques, presenting where these methods have been applied previously, and discussing the fundamental open problems and challenges within the area. We hope that this tutorial is useful for both machine learning researchers whose expertise lies in other areas, while also providing a new perspective to meta-learning researchers. All in all, we aim to provide audience members with the ability to apply meta-learning to their own applications, and develop new meta-learning algorithms and theoretical analyses driven by the current challenges and limitations of existing work.

tl;dr: We will provide a unified perspective of how a variety of meta-learning algorithms enable learning from small datasets, an overview of applications where meta-learning can and cannot be easily applied, and a discussion of the outstanding challenges and frontiers of this sub-field.

Speaker Bios

Chelsea Finn is a research scientist at Google Brain and a post-doctoral scholar at UC Berkeley. In September 2019, she will be joining Stanford's computer science department as an assistant professor. Finn's research interests lie in the ability to enable robots and other agents to develop broadly intelligent behavior through learning and interaction. To this end, Finn has developed deep learning algorithms for concurrently learning visual perception and control in robotic manipulation skills, inverse reinforcement methods for scalable acquisition of nonlinear reward functions, and meta-learning algorithms that can enable fast, few-shot adaptation in both visual perception and deep reinforcement learning. Finn received her Bachelors degree in EECS at MIT, and her PhD in CS at UC Berkeley. Her research has been recognized through an NSF graduate fellowship, a Facebook fellowship, the C.V. Ramamoorthy Distinguished Research Award, and the MIT Technology Review 35 under 35 Award, and her work has been covered by various media outlets, including the New York Times, Wired, and Bloomberg.

Sergey Levine received a BS and MS in Computer Science from Stanford University in 2009, and a Ph.D. in Computer Science from Stanford University in 2014. He joined the faculty of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences at UC Berkeley in fall 2016. His work focuses on machine learning for decision making and control, with an emphasis on deep learning and reinforcement learning algorithms. Applications of his work include autonomous robots and vehicles, as well as computer vision and graphics. His research includes developing algorithms for end-to-end training of deep neural network policies that combine perception and control, scalable algorithms for inverse reinforcement learning, deep reinforcement learning algorithms, and more. His work has been featured in many popular press outlets, including the New York Times, the BBC, MIT Technology Review, and Bloomberg Business.


Meta-learning blog post, 2017: