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  1. 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, findingmore »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.« less
  2. 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 assignmentmore »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.« less