Learning about Deep Learning: Transfer Learning & Reinforcement Learning, part 2

Part 2 of our Deep Learning blog series explores the transformative potential of transfer learning and reinforcement learning techniques. Learn about real-world applications and how these techniques can optimize decision-making and drive innovation.

Part 2 of our Deep Learning blog series explores the transformative potential of transfer learning and reinforcement learning techniques. Learn about real-world applications and how these techniques can optimize decision-making and drive innovation.

July 12, 2023
Tamas Cser

Elevate Your Testing Career to a New Level with a Free, Self-Paced Functionize Intelligent Certification

Learn more
Part 2 of our Deep Learning blog series explores the transformative potential of transfer learning and reinforcement learning techniques. Learn about real-world applications and how these techniques can optimize decision-making and drive innovation.

Deep learning enables machines to tackle complex tasks with remarkable accuracy and has emerged as a transformative field within artificial intelligence. In Part 2 of our 3-part blog series ‘Learning about Deep Learning’, we dive into two fundamental concepts of deep learning: transfer learning and reinforcement learning. 

What is Transfer Learning?

Transfer learning is a technique in deep learning that allows a model to leverage knowledge learned from one task and apply it to a different but related task.

Instead of training a model from scratch, transfer learning starts with a pre-trained model and fine-tunes it on the target task.

This goes a long way in saving time and computational resources. Transfer learning uses learned features, patterns, and representations to achieve better performance even with limited labeled data.

How Does it Work?

Transfer learning involves using a pre-trained model, typically trained on a large-scale dataset as a starting point for a new task. The initial layers of the pre-trained model capture generic features and patterns that are useful for various tasks. To adapt the pre-trained model to the new task, the last few layers are replaced or retrained while keeping the early layers frozen. 

Imagine you have a large dataset of images and you want to build an AI system that can accurately classify different objects in those images. However, collecting and labeling a large dataset for training a deep learning model from scratch can be time-consuming and expensive.

Here's where transfer learning comes in. Instead of starting from scratch, you can take advantage of a pre-trained model that has already learned to recognize a wide range of generic features and patterns from a massive dataset like ImageNet, which contains millions of labeled images across various categories. This pre-trained model has learned to identify edges, shapes, textures, and other fundamental visual elements.

To adapt this pre-trained model to your specific task - let's say you want to classify different types of cars in your dataset - you don't need to train the entire model from scratch. Instead, you can reuse the early layers of the pre-trained model that have captured these generic features. These early layers act as a feature extractor, transforming the input image into a set of high-level features.

However, the last few layers of the pre-trained model are task-specific, meaning they are responsible for making predictions based on the learned features. In our example, these final layers would be specialized in recognizing specific car types. Since these last layers are specific to the original task the model was trained on, they need to be replaced or retrained to suit your new car classification task.

During training, the pre-trained data is fine-tuned, which means that the weights assigned to the parameters are initialized, and only the weights of the new layers are updated. Fine-tuning allows the model to learn task-specific features while retaining the knowledge captured in the early layers. In our case, when we start training our AI model, we initialize the weights of the pre-trained model, which already knows how to recognize general visual patterns. These weights are like the starting point for our car classification task. However, we don't update all the weights. Instead, we focus on updating the weights of the new layers that we added on top of the pre-trained model. These new layers are responsible for making predictions specific to our car classification task. By updating only the new layers' weights, we fine-tune the model to become more proficient at classifying cars.

Fine-tuning can be done on different levels, depending on the similarity between the source and target tasks and the available amount of labeled data for the target task. The fine-tuning can proceed with freezing only a few layers and updating the rest - which means that some layers of the data would remain locked with fixed weights, while others are updated and learn to adapt to specific tasks. The model could also freeze all layers except for the last few, or update all layers with a smaller learning rate. By keeping the early layers frozen and only modifying or retraining the last few layers, you can build a new model that retains the knowledge of generic features learned from the pre-trained model but is fine-tuned specifically for car classification. This approach saves a significant amount of time and computational resources while still achieving good performance on your new task.

For example, the model learns to identify task-specific features related to cars. It might learn to recognize car shapes, headlights, or other distinctive characteristics. At the same time, the model retains the knowledge captured in the early layers of the pre-trained model, such as edges, textures, and generic visual patterns.

Transfer learning is particularly beneficial when the target task has limited labeled data, i.e. data that is manually labeled with the correct output to support the learning process. The model can leverage the pre-trained model's knowledge to generalize better and achieve higher accuracy. It also helps to mitigate the risk of overfitting in scenarios where training from scratch may lead to over-parameterized models.

The success of transfer learning relies on the assumption that the early learned representations are transferable across tasks. If the source and target tasks are similar, such as differentiating between dog breeds and differentiating between cat breeds, the pre-trained model's features are likely to be relevant. However, if the tasks are dissimilar, like using a car classification model for facial emotion recognition, transfer learning may not be as effective and training a model from scratch may be more suitable.

Use Cases and Applications of Transfer Learning

Transfer learning can be applied across various industries and tasks depending on the availability of relevant pre-trained models and the specific requirements of the business. 

Common applications of transfer learning include:

  1. Image Classification
  2. Object Detection
  3. Natural Language Processing (NLP)
  4. Recommendation Systems
  5. Healthcare and Medical Imaging
  6. Robotics and Autonomous Systems
  7. Time Series Analysis
  8. Audio and Speech Recognition

Let’s explore four popular use cases of transfer learning along with the businesses or industries that can benefit from them:

Fraud Detection in Financial Services:

  1. The financial services industry can leverage transfer learning for fraud detection. By using a pre-trained deep learning model on a large dataset containing legitimate and fraudulent transactions, financial institutions can extract meaningful features from transaction data. These features can then be used to train a fraud detection system specific to their organization, enabling them to identify suspicious activities and prevent financial fraud.

Medical Image Diagnosis in Healthcare

  1. In the healthcare industry, transfer learning can be applied to medical image diagnosis. Radiologists and other healthcare providers can use pre-trained convolutional neural networks (CNNs) to extract features from medical images, such as X-rays or MRI scans. These features can then be used to build a diagnostic model that helps in the detection of diseases like cancer or the identification of abnormalities in medical images. Transfer learning accelerates the development of efficient diagnostic systems, assisting medical professionals in making more accurate diagnoses and providing timely treatments.

Natural Language Processing in Customer Service:

  1. In the customer service industry, transfer learning can be utilized for natural language processing (NLP) tasks. Companies can leverage pre-trained language models, such as BERT (Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers), to analyze customer queries, sentiment, and intent. By fine-tuning the pre-trained models on domain-specific data, businesses can develop chatbots or virtual assistants that provide accurate, context-aware responses and deliver a more efficient customer service experience.

Object Recognition in Manufacturing:

  1. In the manufacturing industry, transfer learning can be applied to object recognition tasks on the assembly line. Manufacturers can use pre-trained models trained on vast datasets (e.g., ImageNet) to recognize and classify objects, parts, or defects in real-time. This helps in quality control, detecting faulty components, and ensuring the accuracy and in efficiency of the manufacturing process.

What is Reinforcement Learning?

Reinforcement learning is a branch of machine learning where a system known as an ‘agent’ learns to make sequential decisions by interacting with an environment.

Through trial and error, the agent receives rewards or punishments, and learns optimal strategies to maximize cumulative reward in the long run.

How Does it Work?

Reinforcement learning works by iteratively improving an agent's decision-making through interactions with an environment. The agent observes the current state of the environment, i.e. the specific situation or configuration at a given moment, and selects an action to perform based on its policy, i.e. its decision-making strategy. 

Let's consider the example of optimizing a delivery route for a fleet of vehicles using reinforcement learning. The agent represents a smart system responsible for determining the best routes for the fleet's vehicles. The environment would be a real-world delivery system, which would include factors like traffic, customer locations, and time constraints. At each step, the agent observes the current state of the environment, such as the location of the vehicles, the remaining deliveries, and the traffic conditions. Based on its policy, the agent selects an action, such as choosing a specific route for a vehicle.

After taking an action, the agent receives feedback in the form of a reward signal from the environment, indicating the desirability of the action. The agent uses this reward signal to update its policy and adjust the action selection process accordingly. This process continues over multiple iterations, with the agent learning to optimize its policy by maximizing the cumulative reward it receives. 

For example, if a vehicle successfully delivers packages on time, it receives a positive reward, indicating that the action was beneficial. Conversely, if a vehicle gets stuck in heavy traffic and fails to meet the delivery deadline, it receives a negative reward, signaling that the action had negative consequences.

Reinforcement learning algorithms employ techniques such as value functions, which are used to estimate the expected future rewards for different state-action pairs. Value functions help the agent evaluate the potential benefits of choosing one route or action over another, considering the long-term consequences. They also employ policy gradients, which determine how the agent selects actions based on observed states and optimize the policy. 

The agent uses these techniques to learn how to balance exploration and exploitation strategies for higher rewards to achieve optimal decision-making in complex environments. Exploration refers to the agent's strategy of trying out different actions to discover better strategies. This allows the agent to gather more information about the environment and potential reward outcomes. Exploitation, on the other hand, involves leveraging already learned successful strategies to maximize immediate rewards. 

In the context of our delivery route optimization example, the agent may use exploration to take paths that it hasn't experienced before or that seem less certain. It might intentionally choose alternative routes for some deliveries to test their efficiency or explore different timing options to see if it leads to improved delivery performance. On the other hand, it would use exploitation to focus on making decisions based on known and proven effective actions. If the agent has learned that certain routes consistently lead to on-time deliveries and customer satisfaction, it will prioritize using those routes for similar delivery scenarios. 

Use Cases and Applications of Reinforcement Learning

Reinforcement learning has a wide range of use cases and applications across various domains. Some notable applications:

  1. Game Playing
  2. Robotics
  3. Autonomous Vehicles
  4. Resource Management 
  5. Finance and Trading
  6. Healthcare
  7. Natural Language Processing
  8. Advertising and Marketing
  9. Energy Management
  10. Industrial Control Systems

Let’s explore some examples of reinforcement learning use cases in real businesses:

  1. Inventory Management: Reinforcement learning can optimize inventory control policies, determining when and how much to order to minimize costs while maintaining sufficient stock levels.
  2. Dynamic Pricing: Reinforcement learning algorithms can learn pricing strategies that maximize revenue based on market demand, competition, and other factors.
  3. Ad Placement: Reinforcement learning can be used to optimize ad placement on websites or mobile apps, learning which ads and placements lead to higher user engagement or click-through rates.
  4. Personalized Recommendations: Reinforcement learning algorithms can learn user preferences and behavior to provide personalized recommendations for products, content, or services, improving customer satisfaction and engagement.

As businesses explore the potential of deep learning, it is essential to recognize the transformative impact of transfer learning and reinforcement learning. These techniques provide opportunities to solve complex challenges, enhance decision-making processes, and improve efficiency across a wide range of industries. 

To harness the power of deep learning techniques, businesses should consider investing in research and development, exploring collaborations with AI experts, and leveraging available tools and platforms. Furthermore, staying informed about the latest advancements in deep learning and fostering a culture of innovation can empower organizations to apply these techniques effectively and gain a competitive edge. The time is ripe for businesses to start incorporating deep learning techniques into their operations and shape a future where AI-driven solutions become an integral part of their success.