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Trends Cogn Sci. 1999 Apr;3(4):128-135.

Catastrophic forgetting in connectionist networks.

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Quantitative Psychology and Cognitive Science Unit, Department of Psychology, University of Liége, 4000 Liége, Belgium.


All natural cognitive systems, and, in particular, our own, gradually forget previously learned information. Plausible models of human cognition should therefore exhibit similar patterns of gradual forgetting of old information as new information is acquired. Only rarely does new learning in natural cognitive systems completely disrupt or erase previously learned information; that is, natural cognitive systems do not, in general, forget 'catastrophically'. Unfortunately, though, catastrophic forgetting does occur under certain circumstances in distributed connectionist networks. The very features that give these networks their remarkable abilities to generalize, to function in the presence of degraded input, and so on, are found to be the root cause of catastrophic forgetting. The challenge in this field is to discover how to keep the advantages of distributed connectionist networks while avoiding the problem of catastrophic forgetting. In this article the causes, consequences and numerous solutions to the problem of catastrophic forgetting in neural networks are examined. The review will consider how the brain might have overcome this problem and will also explore the consequences of this solution for distributed connectionist networks.


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