21-25 August 2017
University of Washington, Seattle
US/Pacific timezone

Transfer Learning in Astronomy: A New Machine Learning Paradigm

21 Aug 2017, 17:45
106 (Alder Hall)


Alder Hall

Oral Track 3: Computations in Theoretical Physics: Techniques and Methods Track 3: Computations in Theoretical Physics: Techniques and Methods


Ricardo Vilalta (University of Houston)


The widespread dissemination of machine learning tools in science, particularly in astronomy, has revealed the limitation of working with simple single-task scenarios in which any task in need of a predictive model is looked in isolation, and ignores the existence of other similar tasks. In contrast, a new generation of techniques is emerging where predictive models can take advantage of previous experience to leverage information from similar tasks. The new emerging area is referred to as “Transfer Learning”. In this paper we briefly describe the motivation behind the use of transfer learning techniques, and explain how such techniques can be used to solve popular problems in astronomy. As an example, we show how a prevalent problem in astronomy is to estimate the class of an object (e.g., supernova Ia) using a generation of photometric light-curve datasets where data abounds, but class labels are scarce; such analysis can benefit from spectroscopic data where class labels are known with high confidence, but data is of small size. Transfer learning provides a robust and practical solution to leverage information from one domain to improve the accuracy of a model built on a different domain. In the example above, transfer learning would look to overcome the difficulty in the compatibility of models between spectroscopic data and photometric data, since data properties such as size, class priors, and underlying distributions, are all expected to be significantly different.

Primary author

Ricardo Vilalta (University of Houston)

Presentation materials

Peer reviewing