Lifelong machine learning (LML) has extensively driven the development of web applications, enabling the learning systems deployed on web servers to deal with a sequence of tasks in an incremental fashion. Such systems can retain knowledge from learned tasks in a knowledge base and seamlessly applying it to improve the future learning. Unfortunately, most existing LML methods require labels in every task, whereas providing persistent human labeling for all future tasks is costly, onerous, error-prone, and hence impractical. Motivated by this situation, we propose a new paradigm named unsupervised lifelong learning with curricula(ULLC), where only one task needs to be labeled for initialization and the system then performs lifelong learning for subsequent tasks in an unsupervised fashion. A main challenge of realizing this paradigm lies in the occurrence of negative knowledge transfer, where partial old knowledge becomes detrimental for learning a given task yet cannot be filtered out by the learner without the help of labels. To overcome this challenge, we draw insights from the learning behaviors of humans. When faced with a difficult task that cannot be well tackled by our current knowledge, we usually postpone it and work on some easier tasks first, which allows us to grow our knowledge. Thereafter, once we go back to the postponed task, we are more likely to tackle it well as we are more knowledgeable now. The key idea of ULLC is similar – at any time, a pool of candidate tasks are organized in a curriculum by their distances to the knowledgebase. The learner then starts from the closer tasks, accumulates knowledge from learning them, and moves to learn the faraway tasks with a gradually augmented knowledge base. The viability and effectiveness of our proposal are substantiated through both theoretical analyses and empirical studies.

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