Current natural language processing models work well on a single task, yet they often fail to continuously learn new tasks without forgetting previous ones as they are re-trained throughout their lifetime, a challenge known as lifelong learning. State-of-the-art lifelong language learning methods store past examples in episodic memory and replay them at both training and inference time. However, as we show later in our experiments, there are three significant impediments: (1) needing unrealistically large memory module to achieve good performance, (2) suffering from negative transfer, (3) requiring multiple local adaptation steps for each test example that significantly slows down the inference speed. In this paper, we identify three common principles of lifelong learning methods and propose an efficient meta-lifelong framework that combines them in a synergistic fashion. To achieve sample efficiency, our method trains the model in a manner that it learns a better initialization for local adaptation. Extensive experiments on text classification and question answering benchmarks demonstrate the effectiveness of our framework by achieving state-of-the-art performance using merely 1% memory size and narrowing the gap with multi-task learning. We further show that our method alleviates both catastrophic forgetting and negative transfer at the same time.
Modern multilingual models are trained on concatenated text from multiple languages in hopes of conferring benefits to each (positive transfer), with the most pronounced benefits accruing to low-resource languages. However, recent work has shown that this approach can degrade performance on high-resource languages, a phenomenon known as negative interference. In this paper, we present the first systematic study of negative interference. We show that, contrary to previous belief, negative interference also impacts low-resource languages. While parameters are maximally shared to learn language-universal structures, we demonstrate that language-specific parameters do exist in multilingual models and they are a potential cause of negative interference. Motivated by these observations, we also present a meta-learning algorithm that obtains better cross-lingual transferability and alleviates negative interference, by adding language-specific layers as meta-parameters and training them in a manner that explicitly improves shared layers’ generalization on all languages. Overall, our results show that negative interference is more common than previously known, suggesting new directions for improving multilingual representations.