Google Research

Orthogonal Gradient Descent for Continual Learning

  • Mehrdad Farajtabar
  • Navid Azizan
  • Alex Mott
  • Ang Li
AISTATS 2020 (2020)


Neural networks are achieving state of the art and sometimes super-human performance on learning tasks across a variety of domains. Whenever these problems require learning in a continual or sequential manner, however, neural networks suffer from the problem of catastrophic forgetting; they forget how to solve previous tasks after being trained on a new task, despite having the essential capacity to solve both tasks if they were trained on both simultaneously. In this paper, we propose to address this issue from a parameter space perspective and study an approach to restrict the direction of the gradient updates to avoid forgetting previously-learned data. We present the Orthogonal Gradient Descent (OGD) method, which accomplishes this goal by projecting the gradients from new tasks onto a subspace in which the neural network output on previous task does not change and the projected gradient is still in a useful direction for learning the new task. Our approach utilizes the high capacity of a neural network more efficiently and does not require storing the previously learned data that might raise privacy concerns. Experiments on common benchmarks reveal the effectiveness of the proposed OGD method.

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