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  1. null (Ed.)
    The performance of neural networks depends on precise relationships between four distinct ingredients: the architecture, the loss function, the statistical structure of inputs, and the ground truth target function. Much theoretical work has focused on understanding the role of the first two ingredients under highly simplified models of random uncorrelated data and target functions. In contrast, performance likely relies on a conspiracy between the statistical structure of the input distribution and the structure of the function to be learned. To understand this better we revisit ridge regression in high dimensions, which corresponds to an exceedingly simple architecture and loss function, but we analyze its performance under arbitrary correlations between input features and the target function. We find a rich mathematical structure that includes: (1) a dramatic reduction in sample complexity when the target function aligns with data anisotropy; (2) the existence of multiple descent curves; (3) a sequence of phase transitions in the performance, loss landscape, and optimal regularization as a function of the amount of data that explains the first two effects. 
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  2. null (Ed.)
    While contrastive approaches of self-supervised learning (SSL) learn representations by minimizing the distance between two augmented views of the same data point (positive pairs) and maximizing views from different data points (negative pairs), recent \emph{non-contrastive} SSL (e.g., BYOL and SimSiam) show remarkable performance {\it without} negative pairs, with an extra learnable predictor and a stop-gradient operation. A fundamental question rises: why they do not collapse into trivial representation? In this paper, we answer this question via a simple theoretical study and propose a novel approach, \ourmethod{}, that \emph{directly} sets the linear predictor based on the statistics of its inputs, rather than trained with gradient update. On ImageNet, it performs comparably with more complex two-layer non-linear predictors that employ BatchNorm and outperforms linear predictor by 2.5 in 300-epoch training (and 5 in 60-epoch). \ourmethod{} is motivated by our theoretical study of the nonlinear learning dynamics of non-contrastive SSL in simple linear networks. Our study yields conceptual insights into how non-contrastive SSL methods learn, how they avoid representational collapse, and how multiple factors, like predictor networks, stop-gradients, exponential moving averages, and weight decay all come into play. Our simple theory recapitulates the results of real-world ablation studies in both STL-10 and ImageNet. Code is released. 
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  3. null (Ed.)
    Biological neural networks face a formidable task: performing reliable computations in the face of intrinsic stochasticity in individual neurons, imprecisely specified synaptic connectivity, and nonnegligible delays in synaptic transmission. A common approach to combatting such biological heterogeneity involves averaging over large redundant networks of N neurons resulting in coding errors that decrease classically as the square root of N. Recent work demonstrated a novel mechanism whereby recurrent spiking networks could efficiently encode dynamic stimuli achieving a superclassical scaling in which coding errors decrease as 1/N. This specific mechanism involved two key ideas: predictive coding, and a tight balance, or cancellation between strong feedforward inputs and strong recurrent feedback. However, the theoretical principles governing the efficacy of balanced predictive coding and its robustness to noise, synaptic weight heterogeneity and communication delays remain poorly understood. To discover such principles, we introduce an analytically tractable model of balanced predictive coding, in which the degree of balance and the degree of weight disorder can be dissociated unlike in previous balanced network models, and we develop a mean-field theory of coding accuracy. Overall, our work provides and solves a general theoretical framework for dissecting the differential contributions neural noise, synaptic disorder, chaos, synaptic delays, and balance to the fidelity of predictive neural codes, reveals the fundamental role that balance plays in achieving superclassical scaling, and unifies previously disparate models in theoretical neuroscience. 
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  4. null (Ed.)
    Pruning the parameters of deep neural networks has generated intense interest due to potential savings in time, memory and energy both during training and at test time. Recent works have identified, through an expensive sequence of training and pruning cycles, the existence of winning lottery tickets or sparse trainable subnetworks at initialization. This raises a foundational question: can we identify highly sparse trainable subnetworks at initialization, without ever training, or indeed without ever looking at the data? We provide an affirmative answer to this question through theory driven algorithm design. We first mathematically formulate and experimentally verify a conservation law that explains why existing gradient-based pruning algorithms at initialization suffer from layer-collapse, the premature pruning of an entire layer rendering a network untrainable. This theory also elucidates how layer-collapse can be entirely avoided, motivating a novel pruning algorithm Iterative Synaptic Flow Pruning (SynFlow). This algorithm can be interpreted as preserving the total flow of synaptic strengths through the network at initialization subject to a sparsity constraint. Notably, this algorithm makes no reference to the training data and consistently competes with or outperforms existing state-of-the-art pruning algorithms at initialization over a range of models (VGG and ResNet), datasets (CIFAR-10/100 and Tiny ImageNet), and sparsity constraints (up to 99.99 percent). Thus our data-agnostic pruning algorithm challenges the existing paradigm that, at initialization, data must be used to quantify which synapses are important. 
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  5. null (Ed.)
    The brain modifies its synaptic strengths during learning in order to better adapt to its environment. However, the underlying plasticity rules that govern learning are unknown. Many proposals have been suggested, including Hebbian mechanisms, explicit error backpropagation, and a variety of alternatives. It is an open question as to what specific experimental measurements would need to be made to determine whether any given learning rule is operative in a real biological system. In this work, we take a "virtual experimental" approach to this problem. Simulating idealized neuroscience experiments with artificial neural networks, we generate a large-scale dataset of learning trajectories of aggregate statistics measured in a variety of neural network architectures, loss functions, learning rule hyperparameters, and parameter initializations. We then take a discriminative approach, training linear and simple non-linear classifiers to identify learning rules from features based on these observables. We show that different classes of learning rules can be separated solely on the basis of aggregate statistics of the weights, activations, or instantaneous layer-wise activity changes, and that these results generalize to limited access to the trajectory and held-out architectures and learning curricula. We identify the statistics of each observable that are most relevant for rule identification, finding that statistics from network activities across training are more robust to unit undersampling and measurement noise than those obtained from the synaptic strengths. Our results suggest that activation patterns, available from electrophysiological recordings of post-synaptic activities on the order of several hundred units, frequently measured at wider intervals over the course of learning, may provide a good basis on which to identify learning rules. 
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    In suitably initialized wide networks, small learning rates transform deep neural networks (DNNs) into neural tangent kernel (NTK) machines, whose training dynamics is well-approximated by a linear weight expansion of the network at initialization. Standard training, however, diverges from its linearization in ways that are poorly understood. We study the relationship between the training dynamics of nonlinear deep networks, the geometry of the loss landscape, and the time evolution of a data-dependent NTK. We do so through a large-scale phenomenological analysis of training, synthesizing diverse measures characterizing loss landscape geometry and NTK dynamics. In multiple neural architectures and datasets, we find these diverse measures evolve in a highly correlated manner, revealing a universal picture of the deep learning process. In this picture, deep network training exhibits a highly chaotic rapid initial transient that within 2 to 3 epochs determines the final linearly connected basin of low loss containing the end point of training. During this chaotic transient, the NTK changes rapidly, learning useful features from the training data that enables it to outperform the standard initial NTK by a factor of 3 in less than 3 to 4 epochs. After this rapid chaotic transient, the NTK changes at constant velocity, and its performance matches that of full network training in 15\% to 45\% of training time. Overall, our analysis reveals a striking correlation between a diverse set of metrics over training time, governed by a rapid chaotic to stable transition in the first few epochs, that together poses challenges and opportunities for the development of more accurate theories of deep learning. 
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  8. null (Ed.)
    The neural plausibility of backpropagation has long been disputed, primarily for its use of non-local weight transport — the biologically dubious requirement that one neuron instantaneously measure the synaptic weights of another. Until recently, attempts to create local learning rules that avoid weight transport have typically failed in the large-scale learning scenarios where backpropagation shines, e.g. ImageNet categorization with deep convolutional networks. Here, we investigate a recently proposed local learning rule that yields competitive performance with backpropagation and find that it is highly sensitive to metaparameter choices, requiring laborious tuning that does not transfer across network architecture. Our analysis indicates the underlying mathematical reason for this instability, allowing us to identify a more robust local learning rule that better transfers without metaparameter tuning. Nonetheless, we find a performance and stability gap between this local rule and backpropagation that widens with increasing model depth. We then investigate several non-local learning rules that relax the need for instantaneous weight transport into a more biologically-plausible "weight estimation" process, showing that these rules match state-of-the-art performance on deep networks and operate effectively in the presence of noisy updates. Taken together, our results suggest two routes towards the discovery of neural implementations for credit assignment without weight symmetry: further improvement of local rules so that they perform consistently across architectures and the identification of biological implementations for non-local learning mechanisms. 
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  9. null (Ed.)
    Many recent studies have employed task-based modeling with recurrent neural networks (RNNs) to infer the computational function of different brain regions. These models are often assessed by quantitatively comparing the low-dimensional neural dynamics of the model and the brain, for example using canonical correlation analysis (CCA). However, the nature of the detailed neurobiological inferences one can draw from such efforts remains elusive. For example, to what extent does training neural networks to solve simple tasks, prevalent in neuroscientific studies, uniquely determine the low-dimensional dynamics independent of neural architectures? Or alternatively, are the learned dynamics highly sensitive to different neural architectures? Knowing the answer to these questions has strong implications on whether and how to use task-based RNN modeling to understand brain dynamics. To address these foundational questions, we study populations of thousands of networks of commonly used RNN architectures trained to solve neuroscientifically motivated tasks and characterize their low-dimensional dynamics via CCA and nonlinear dynamical systems analysis. We find the geometry of the dynamics can be highly sensitive to different network architectures, and further find striking dissociations between geometric similarity as measured by CCA and network function, yielding a cautionary tale. Moreover, we find that while the geometry of neural dynamics can vary greatly across architectures, the underlying computational scaffold: the topological structure of fixed points, transitions between them, limit cycles, and linearized dynamics, often appears {\it universal} across all architectures. Overall, this analysis of universality and individuality across large populations of RNNs provides a much needed foundation for interpreting quantitative measures of dynamical similarity between RNN and brain dynamics. 
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  10. null (Ed.)
    Recurrent neural networks (RNNs) are a widely used tool for modeling sequential data, yet they are often treated as inscrutable black boxes. Given a trained recurrent network, we would like to reverse engineer it--to obtain a quantitative, interpretable description of how it solves a particular task. Even for simple tasks, a detailed understanding of how recurrent networks work, or a prescription for how to develop such an understanding, remains elusive. In this work, we use tools from dynamical systems analysis to reverse engineer recurrent networks trained to perform sentiment classification, a foundational natural language processing task. Given a trained network, we find fixed points of the recurrent dynamics and linearize the nonlinear system around these fixed points. Despite their theoretical capacity to implement complex, high-dimensional computations, we find that trained networks converge to highly interpretable, low-dimensional representations. In particular, the topological structure of the fixed points and corresponding linearized dynamics reveal an approximate line attractor within the RNN, which we can use to quantitatively understand how the RNN solves the sentiment analysis task. Finally, we find this mechanism present across RNN architectures (including LSTMs, GRUs, and vanilla RNNs) trained on multiple datasets, suggesting that our findings are not unique to a particular architecture or dataset. Overall, these results demonstrate that surprisingly universal and human interpretable computations can arise across a range of recurrent networks. 
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