RanPAC: Random Projections and Pre-trained Models for Continual Learning

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 36 (NeurIPS 2023) Main Conference Track

Bibtex Paper Supplemental


Mark D. McDonnell, Dong Gong, Amin Parvaneh, Ehsan Abbasnejad, Anton van den Hengel


Continual learning (CL) aims to incrementally learn different tasks (such as classification) in a non-stationary data stream without forgetting old ones. Most CL works focus on tackling catastrophic forgetting under a learning-from-scratch paradigm. However, with the increasing prominence of foundation models, pre-trained models equipped with informative representations have become available for various downstream requirements. Several CL methods based on pre-trained models have been explored, either utilizing pre-extracted features directly (which makes bridging distribution gaps challenging) or incorporating adaptors (which may be subject to forgetting). In this paper, we propose a concise and effective approach for CL with pre-trained models. Given that forgetting occurs during parameter updating, we contemplate an alternative approach that exploits training-free random projectors and class-prototype accumulation, which thus bypasses the issue. Specifically, we inject a frozen Random Projection layer with nonlinear activation between the pre-trained model's feature representations and output head, which captures interactions between features with expanded dimensionality, providing enhanced linear separability for class-prototype-based CL. We also demonstrate the importance of decorrelating the class-prototypes to reduce the distribution disparity when using pre-trained representations. These techniques prove to be effective and circumvent the problem of forgetting for both class- and domain-incremental continual learning. Compared to previous methods applied to pre-trained ViT-B/16 models, we reduce final error rates by between 20% and 62% on seven class-incremental benchmark datasets, despite not using any rehearsal memory. We conclude that the full potential of pre-trained models for simple, effective, and fast continual learning has not hitherto been fully tapped. Code is available at https://github.com/RanPAC/RanPAC.