National Research Council of Canada. NRC Institute for Information Technology
An inductive learning algorithm takes a set of data as input and generates a hypothesis as output. A set of data is typically consistent with an infinite number of hypotheses; therefore, there must be factors other than the data that determine the output of the learning algorithm. In machine learning, these other factors are called the bias of the learner. Classical learning algorithms have a fixed bias, implicit in their design. Recently developed learning algorithms dynamically adjust their bias as they search for a hypothesis. Algorithms that shift bias in this manner are not as well understood as classical algorithms. In this paper, we show that the Baldwin effect has implications for the design and analysis of bias shifting algorithms. The Baldwin effect was proposed in 1896, to explain how phenomena that might appear to require Lamarckian evolution (inheritance of acquired characteristics) can arise from purely Darwinian evolution. Hinton and Nowlan presented a computational model of the Baldwin effect in 1987. We explore a variation on their model, which we constructed explicitly to illustrate the lessons that the Baldwin effect has for research in bias shifting algorithms. The main lesson is that it appears that a good strategy for shift of bias in a learning algorithm is to begin with a weak bias and gradually shift to a strong bias.