Learning to Teach with Dynamic Loss Functions

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 31 (NeurIPS 2018)

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Lijun Wu, Fei Tian, Yingce Xia, Yang Fan, Tao Qin, Lai Jian-Huang, Tie-Yan Liu


Teaching is critical to human society: it is with teaching that prospective students are educated and human civilization can be inherited and advanced. A good teacher not only provides his/her students with qualified teaching materials (e.g., textbooks), but also sets up appropriate learning objectives (e.g., course projects and exams) considering different situations of a student. When it comes to artificial intelligence, treating machine learning models as students, the loss functions that are optimized act as perfect counterparts of the learning objective set by the teacher. In this work, we explore the possibility of imitating human teaching behaviors by dynamically and automatically outputting appropriate loss functions to train machine learning models. Different from typical learning settings in which the loss function of a machine learning model is predefined and fixed, in our framework, the loss function of a machine learning model (we call it student) is defined by another machine learning model (we call it teacher). The ultimate goal of teacher model is cultivating the student to have better performance measured on development dataset. Towards that end, similar to human teaching, the teacher, a parametric model, dynamically outputs different loss functions that will be used and optimized by its student model at different training stages. We develop an efficient learning method for the teacher model that makes gradient based optimization possible, exempt of the ineffective solutions such as policy optimization. We name our method as ``learning to teach with dynamic loss functions'' (L2T-DLF for short). Extensive experiments on real world tasks including image classification and neural machine translation demonstrate that our method significantly improves the quality of various student models.