Understanding Few-Shot Learning: Measuring Task Relatedness and Adaptation Difficulty via Attributes

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

Bibtex Paper Supplemental


Minyang Hu, Hong Chang, Zong Guo, Bingpeng MA, Shiguang Shan, Xilin Chen


Few-shot learning (FSL) aims to learn novel tasks with very few labeled samples by leveraging experience from \emph{related} training tasks. In this paper, we try to understand FSL by exploring two key questions: (1) How to quantify the relationship between \emph{ training} and \emph{novel} tasks? (2) How does the relationship affect the \emph{adaptation difficulty} on novel tasks for different models? To answer the first question, we propose Task Attribute Distance (TAD) as a metric to quantify the task relatedness via attributes. Unlike other metrics, TAD is independent of models, making it applicable to different FSL models. To address the second question, we utilize TAD metric to establish a theoretical connection between task relatedness and task adaptation difficulty. By deriving the generalization error bound on a novel task, we discover how TAD measures the adaptation difficulty on novel tasks for different models. To validate our theoretical results, we conduct experiments on three benchmarks. Our experimental results confirm that TAD metric effectively quantifies the task relatedness and reflects the adaptation difficulty on novel tasks for various FSL methods, even if some of them do not learn attributes explicitly or human-annotated attributes are not provided. Our code is available at \href{https://github.com/hu-my/TaskAttributeDistance}{https://github.com/hu-my/TaskAttributeDistance}.