Research

My primary research interests are in the areas of machine learning and artificial intelligence, with a focus on the following topics:

My research applies these methods to problems in robotics, computational sustainability, and medicine.

Lifelong
              learningLifelong Machine Learning   (Related Publications)

Lifelong learning is essential for an intelligent agent that will persist in the real world with any amount of versatility. Animals learn to solve increasingly complex tasks by continually building upon and refining their knowledge. Virtually every aspect of higher-level learning and memory involves this process of continual learning and transfer.  In contrast, most current machine learning methods take a "single-shot" approach in which knowledge is not retained between learning problems.

My research seeks to develop lifelong machine learning for intelligent agents situated for extended periods in an environment and faced with multiple tasks.  The agent will continually learn to solve multiple (possibly interleaved) tasks through a combination of knowledge transfer from previously learned models, revision of stored source knowledge from new experience, and optional guidance from external teachers or human experts.  The goal of this work is to enable persistent agents to develop increasingly complex abilities over time by continually and synergistically building upon their knowledge.   Lifelong learning could substantially improve the versatility of learning systems by enabling them to quickly learn a broad range of complex tasks and adapt to changing circumstances.

Under this project, we developed the Efficient Lifelong Learning Algorithm (ELLA) [Ruvolo & Eaton, ICML 2013] -- a method for online multi-task learning of consecutive tasks that has equivalent performance to batch multi-task learning with over a 1,000x speedup. ELLA learns and maintains a repository of shared knowledge, rapidly learning new task models by building upon previous knowledge. ELLA provides a variety of theoretical guarantees on performance and convergence, along with state-of-the-art performance on supervised multi-task learning problems. It also supports active task selection to intelligently choose the next task to learn in order to maximize performance [Ruvolo & Eaton, AAAI 2013].

This project is funded under the Office of Naval Research (ONR) Active Transfer Learning program and is joint work with Terran Lane (University of New Mexico / Google) and Paul Ruvolo (Olin College).  For further details on this ongoing project, please see our recent publications or contact me directly.

Multi-Task Policy Gradient Methods for Robotic Control    (Related Publications) Multi-Task Policy Gradient Methods for Robotic Control

We have extended ELLA to sequential decision making through the PG-ELLA algorithm for online multi-task learning using policy gradients [Bou Ammar, Eaton, Taylor & Ruvolo, ICML 2014]. Policy gradient methods support sequential decision making with continuous state and action spaces, and have been use with great success for robotic control. Our PG-ELLA algorithm incorporates ELLA's notion of using a shared basis to transfer knowledge between multiple sequential decision making tasks, and provides a computationally efficient method of learning new control policies by building upon previously learned knowledge. Rapid learning of control policies for new systems is essential to minimize both training time as well as wear-and-tear on the robot. We applied PG-ELLA to learn control policies for a variety of dynamical systems with non-linear and highly chaotic behavior, including an application to quadrotor control.


Interactive Artificial Intelligence   (Related Publications)

My research on interactive AI methods seeks to give users extensive control over reasoning and learning processes. In many critical applications, especially in military and medical domains, users will reject traditional AI automation without the ability for each result to be checked and altered by a human operator. Interactive AI methods incorporate such levels of user control to facilitate the transition of AI into these types of applications. This interactive AI paradigm combines user-driven control with the complementary system-driven approach of active learning.

Interactive Learning

A Manifold-Based Approach to Interactive Learning

At Lockheed Martin, I led the development of an interactive AI method based on manifold learning (left figure) that trains a regression function in collaboration with the user [Eaton, Holness, & McFarlane in AAAI 2010]. This approach was applied to a naval system used to ensure the safety of shipping ports---a critical application in which watchstanders require the ability to rapidly adjust the model in response to changing mission requirements. This method generalizes user feedback on individual vessels to alter the model in an intuitive manner that monotonically improves performance with any correction, providing the first such guarantee of any interactive learning method. This technique could also be applied to other systems used by network security analysts, stock traders, and crisis monitoring centers.

Spin Glass Community Detection

Semi-Supervised Community Detection

My group also developed an interactive method (right figure) for incorporating user guidance and background knowledge into the community detection process using a semi-supervised spin-glass model [Eaton & Mansbach, AAAI 2012]. We focused on scenarios in which there was noise in the relational network, and showed that popular modularity-based community detection algorithms perform poorly as the network becomes increasingly noise. We showed that semi-supervision could be integrated into a spin-glass model for community detection, providing robust performance in noisy networks. We also showed that this semi-supervised spin-glass model yields an alternate form of Newman-Girvan graph modularity that incorporates background information, enabling existing modularity-based community detection algorithms to be easily modified to incorporate semi-supervision.


Selective Knowledge Transfer    (Related Publications)

Selective Transfer Manifold My dissertation research [Eaton, 2009] focused on the problem of source selection in transfer learning: given a set of previously learned source tasks, how can we select the knowledge to transfer in order to best improve learning on a new target task? In this context, a task is a single learning problem, such as learning to recognize a particular visual object. Until my dissertation, the problem of source knowledge selection for transfer learning had received little attention, despite its importance to the development of robust transfer learning algorithms. Previous methods assumed that all source tasks were relevant, including those that provided irrelevant knowledge, which can interfere with learning through the phenomenon of negative transfer.

My results showed that proper source selection can produce large improvements in transfer performance and decrease the risk of negative transfer by identifying the knowledge that would best improve learning of the new task. This aspect can be measured by the transferability between tasks -- a measure, introduced in my dissertation, of the change in performance between learning with and without transfer.

I developed selective transfer methods based on this notion of transferability for two general scenarios: the transfer of individual training instances [Eaton & desJardins, 2011; Eaton & desJardins, 2009] and the transfer of model components between tasks [Eaton, desJardins & Lane in ECML 2008].  In particular, my research on model-based transfer showed that modeling the transferability relationships between tasks using a manifold provides an effective framework for source knowledge selection, providing a geometric framework for understanding how knowledge is best transferred between learning tasks.


Constrained Clustering   (Related Publications)Multi-view Constrained Clustering
              Image

Constrained clustering uses background knowledge in the form of must-link constraints, which specify that two instances belong in the same cluster, and cannot-link constraints, which specify that two instances belong in different clusters, to improve the resulting clustering. My Master's thesis work [Eaton, 2005] focused on a method for propagating a given set of constraints to other data instances based on the cluster geometry, decreasing the number of constraints needed to achieve high performance. This method for constraint propagation was later used as the foundation for the first mult-view constrained clustering method that supports an incomplete mapping between views [Eaton, desJardins, & Jacob in KAIS 2012; Eaton, desJardins, & Jacob in CIKM 2010].  In this method, clustering progress in one view of the data (e.g., images) is propagated via a set of pairwise constraints to improve learning performance in another view (e.g., associated text documents).  The key contribution of this work is that it supports an incomplete mapping between views, enabling the method to be successfully applied to a larger range of applications and legacy data sets that have multiple views available for only a limited portion of the data.


Set-based
              Preference LearningLearning User Preferences over Sets of Objects   (Related Publications)

In collaboration with Marie desJardins (UMBC) and Kiri Wagstaff (NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory), I developed the DDPref framework for learning and reasoning about a user's preferences for selecting sets of objects where items in the set interact [desJardins, Eaton & Wagstaff, 2006; Wagstaff, desJardins & Eaton, 2010]. The DDPref representation captures interactions between items within a set, modeling the user's desired levels of quality and diversity of items in the set. Our approach allows a user to either manually specify a preference representation, or select example sets that represent their desired information, from which we can learn a representation of their preferences. We applied the DDPref method to identify sets of images taken by a remote Mars rover for transmission back to the user. Due to the limited communications bandwidth, it is important to send back a set of images which together captures the user's desired information. This research is also applicable to search result set creation, automatic content presentation, and targeted information acquisition.