Transfer learning, or domain adaptation, is concerned with machine learning problems in which training and testing data come from possibly different distributions (denoted as u and u', respectively). In this work, we give an information-theoretic analysis on the generalization error and the excess risk of transfer learning algorithms, following a line of work initiated by Russo and Zhou. Our results suggest, perhaps as expected, that the Kullback-Leibler (KL) divergence $D(u||u')$ plays an important role in characterizing the generalization error in the settings of domain adaptation. Specifically, we provide generalization error upper bounds for general transfer learning algorithms, and extend the results to a specific empirical risk minimization (ERM) algorithm where data from both distributions are available in the training phase. We further apply the method to iterative, noisy gradient descent algorithms, and obtain upper bounds which can be easily calculated, only using parameters from the learning algorithms. A few illustrative examples are provided to demonstrate the usefulness of the results. In particular, our bound is tighter in specific classification problems than the bound derived using Rademacher complexity.


Xuetong Wu

University of Melbourne

Jonathan Manton

University of Melbourne

Uwe Aickelin

University of Melbourne

Jingge Zhu

University of Melbourne

Session Chair

Varun Jog

University of Wisconsin-Madison