On sparse representations and new meta-learning paradigms for representation learning

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Mehta, Nishant A.
Isbell, Charles L.
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Given the "right" representation, learning is easy. This thesis studies representation learning and meta-learning, with a special focus on sparse representations. Meta-learning is fundamental to machine learning, and it translates to learning to learn itself. The presentation unfolds in two parts. In the first part, we establish learning theoretic results for learning sparse representations. The second part introduces new multi-task and meta-learning paradigms for representation learning. On the sparse representations front, our main pursuits are generalization error bounds to support a supervised dictionary learning model for Lasso-style sparse coding. Such predictive sparse coding algorithms have been applied with much success in the literature; even more common have been applications of unsupervised sparse coding followed by supervised linear hypothesis learning. We present two generalization error bounds for predictive sparse coding, handling the overcomplete setting (more original dimensions than learned features) and the infinite-dimensional setting. Our analysis led to a fundamental stability result for the Lasso that shows the stability of the solution vector to design matrix perturbations. We also introduce and analyze new multi-task models for (unsupervised) sparse coding and predictive sparse coding, allowing for one dictionary per task but with sharing between the tasks' dictionaries. The second part introduces new meta-learning paradigms to realize unprecedented types of learning guarantees for meta-learning. Specifically sought are guarantees on a meta-learner's performance on new tasks encountered in an environment of tasks. Nearly all previous work produced bounds on the expected risk, whereas we produce tail bounds on the risk, thereby providing performance guarantees on the risk for a single new task drawn from the environment. The new paradigms include minimax multi-task learning (minimax MTL) and sample variance penalized meta-learning (SVP-ML). Regarding minimax MTL, we provide a high probability learning guarantee on its performance on individual tasks encountered in the future, the first of its kind. We also present two continua of meta-learning formulations, each interpolating between classical multi-task learning and minimax multi-task learning. The idea of SVP-ML is to minimize the task average of the training tasks' empirical risks plus a penalty on their sample variance. Controlling this sample variance can potentially yield a faster rate of decrease for upper bounds on the expected risk of new tasks, while also yielding high probability guarantees on the meta-learner's average performance over a draw of new test tasks. An algorithm is presented for SVP-ML with feature selection representations, as well as a quite natural convex relaxation of the SVP-ML objective.
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