ForkMerge: Mitigating Negative Transfer in Auxiliary-Task Learning

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

Bibtex Paper Supplemental


Junguang Jiang, Baixu Chen, Junwei Pan, Ximei Wang, Dapeng Liu, Jie Jiang, Mingsheng Long


Auxiliary-Task Learning (ATL) aims to improve the performance of the target task by leveraging the knowledge obtained from related tasks. Occasionally, learning multiple tasks simultaneously results in lower accuracy than learning only the target task, which is known as negative transfer. This problem is often attributed to the gradient conflicts among tasks, and is frequently tackled by coordinating the task gradients in previous works. However, these optimization-based methods largely overlook the auxiliary-target generalization capability. To better understand the root cause of negative transfer, we experimentally investigate it from both optimization and generalization perspectives. Based on our findings, we introduce ForkMerge, a novel approach that periodically forks the model into multiple branches, automatically searches the varying task weights by minimizing target validation errors, and dynamically merges all branches to filter out detrimental task-parameter updates. On a series of auxiliary-task learning benchmarks, ForkMerge outperforms existing methods and effectively mitigates negative transfer.