How Fine-Tuning Allows for Effective Meta-Learning

Kurtland Chua, Qi Lei, Jason D. Lee

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution


Representation learning has served as a key tool for meta-learning, enabling rapid learning of new tasks. Recent works like MAML learn task-specific representations by finding an initial representation requiring minimal per-task adaptation (i.e. a fine-tuning-based objective). We present a theoretical framework for analyzing a MAML-like algorithm, assuming all available tasks require approximately the same representation. We then provide risk bounds on predictors found by fine-tuning via gradient descent, demonstrating that the method provably leverages the shared structure. We illustrate these bounds in the logistic regression and neural network settings. In contrast, we establish settings where learning one representation for all tasks (i.e. using a “frozen representation” objective) fails. Notably, any such algorithm cannot outperform directly learning the target task with no other information, in the worst case. This separation underscores the benefit of fine-tuning-based over “frozen representation” objectives in few-shot learning.

Original languageAmerican English
Title of host publicationAdvances in Neural Information Processing Systems 34 - 35th Conference on Neural Information Processing Systems, NeurIPS 2021
EditorsMarc'Aurelio Ranzato, Alina Beygelzimer, Yann Dauphin, Percy S. Liang, Jenn Wortman Vaughan
PublisherNeural information processing systems foundation
Number of pages14
ISBN (Electronic)9781713845393
StatePublished - 2021
Event35th Conference on Neural Information Processing Systems, NeurIPS 2021 - Virtual, Online
Duration: Dec 6 2021Dec 14 2021

Publication series

NameAdvances in Neural Information Processing Systems


Conference35th Conference on Neural Information Processing Systems, NeurIPS 2021
CityVirtual, Online

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Computer Networks and Communications
  • Information Systems
  • Signal Processing

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