Biological and artificial information processing systems form representations that they can use to categorize, reason, plan, navigate, and make decisions. How can we measure the extent to which the representations formed by these diverse systems agree? Do similarities in representations then translate into similar behavior? How can a system's representations be modified to better match those of another system? These questions pertaining to the study of representational alignment are at the heart of some of the most active research areas in cognitive science, neuroscience, and machine learning. For example, cognitive scientists measure the representational alignment of multiple individuals to identify shared cognitive priors, neuroscientists align fMRI responses from multiple individuals into a shared representational space for group-level analyses, and ML researchers distill knowledge from teacher models into student models by increasing their alignment. Unfortunately, there is limited knowledge transfer between research communities interested in representational alignment, so progress in one field often ends up being rediscovered independently in another. Thus, greater cross-field communication would be advantageous. To improve communication between these fields, we propose a unifying framework that can serve as a common language between researchers studying representational alignment. We survey the literature from all three fields and demonstrate how prior work fits into this framework. Finally, we lay out open problems in representational alignment where progress can benefit all three of these fields. We hope that our work can catalyze cross-disciplinary collaboration and accelerate progress for all communities studying and developing information processing systems. We note that this is a working paper and encourage readers to reach out with their suggestions for future revisions.
* Working paper, changes to be made in upcoming revisions
Artificial Intelligence (AI) systems have made remarkable progress, attaining super-human performance across various domains. This presents us with an opportunity to further human knowledge and improve human expert performance by leveraging the hidden knowledge encoded within these highly performant AI systems. Yet, this knowledge is often hard to extract, and may be hard to understand or learn from. Here, we show that this is possible by proposing a new method that allows us to extract new chess concepts in AlphaZero, an AI system that mastered the game of chess via self-play without human supervision. Our analysis indicates that AlphaZero may encode knowledge that extends beyond the existing human knowledge, but knowledge that is ultimately not beyond human grasp, and can be successfully learned from. In a human study, we show that these concepts are learnable by top human experts, as four top chess grandmasters show improvements in solving the presented concept prototype positions. This marks an important first milestone in advancing the frontier of human knowledge by leveraging AI; a development that could bear profound implications and help us shape how we interact with AI systems across many AI applications.
With more complex AI systems used by non-AI experts to complete daily tasks, there is an increasing effort to develop methods that produce explanations of AI decision making understandable by non-AI experts. Towards this effort, leveraging higher-level concepts and producing concept-based explanations have become a popular method. Most concept-based explanations have been developed for classification techniques, and we posit that the few existing methods for sequential decision making are limited in scope. In this work, we first contribute a desiderata for defining "concepts" in sequential decision making settings. Additionally, inspired by the Protege Effect which states explaining knowledge often reinforces one's self-learning, we explore the utility of concept-based explanations providing a dual benefit to the RL agent by improving agent learning rate, and to the end-user by improving end-user understanding of agent decision making. To this end, we contribute a unified framework, State2Explanation (S2E), that involves learning a joint embedding model between state-action pairs and concept-based explanations, and leveraging such learned model to both (1) inform reward shaping during an agent's training, and (2) provide explanations to end-users at deployment for improved task performance. Our experimental validations, in Connect 4 and Lunar Lander, demonstrate the success of S2E in providing a dual-benefit, successfully informing reward shaping and improving agent learning rate, as well as significantly improving end user task performance at deployment time.
How do neural networks extract patterns from pixels? Feature visualizations attempt to answer this important question by visualizing highly activating patterns through optimization. Today, visualization methods form the foundation of our knowledge about the internal workings of neural networks, as a type of mechanistic interpretability. Here we ask: How reliable are feature visualizations? We start our investigation by developing network circuits that trick feature visualizations into showing arbitrary patterns that are completely disconnected from normal network behavior on natural input. We then provide evidence for a similar phenomenon occurring in standard, unmanipulated networks: feature visualizations are processed very differently from standard input, casting doubt on their ability to "explain" how neural networks process natural images. We underpin this empirical finding by theory proving that the set of functions that can be reliably understood by feature visualization is extremely small and does not include general black-box neural networks. Therefore, a promising way forward could be the development of networks that enforce certain structures in order to ensure more reliable feature visualizations.
Understanding which concepts models can and cannot represent has been fundamental to many tasks: from effective and responsible use of models to detecting out of distribution data. We introduce Gaussian process probes (GPP), a unified and simple framework for probing and measuring uncertainty about concepts represented by models. As a Bayesian extension of linear probing methods, GPP asks what kind of distribution over classifiers (of concepts) is induced by the model. This distribution can be used to measure both what the model represents and how confident the probe is about what the model represents. GPP can be applied to any pre-trained model with vector representations of inputs (e.g., activations). It does not require access to training data, gradients, or the architecture. We validate GPP on datasets containing both synthetic and real images. Our experiments show it can (1) probe a model's representations of concepts even with a very small number of examples, (2) accurately measure both epistemic uncertainty (how confident the probe is) and aleatory uncertainty (how fuzzy the concepts are to the model), and (3) detect out of distribution data using those uncertainty measures as well as classic methods do. By using Gaussian processes to expand what probing can offer, GPP provides a data-efficient, versatile and uncertainty-aware tool for understanding and evaluating the capabilities of machine learning models.
Current approaches to building general-purpose AI systems tend to produce systems with both beneficial and harmful capabilities. Further progress in AI development could lead to capabilities that pose extreme risks, such as offensive cyber capabilities or strong manipulation skills. We explain why model evaluation is critical for addressing extreme risks. Developers must be able to identify dangerous capabilities (through "dangerous capability evaluations") and the propensity of models to apply their capabilities for harm (through "alignment evaluations"). These evaluations will become critical for keeping policymakers and other stakeholders informed, and for making responsible decisions about model training, deployment, and security.
Language models are known to learn a great quantity of factual information during pretraining, and recent work localizes this information to specific model weights like mid-layer MLP weights (Meng et al., 2022). In this paper, we find that we can change how a fact is stored in a model by editing weights that are in a different location than where existing methods suggest that the fact is stored. This is surprising because we would expect that localizing facts to specific parameters in models would tell us where to manipulate knowledge in models, and this assumption has motivated past work on model editing methods. Specifically, we show that localization conclusions from representation denoising (also known as Causal Tracing) do not provide any insight into which model MLP layer would be best to edit in order to override an existing stored fact with a new one. This finding raises questions about how past work relies on Causal Tracing to select which model layers to edit (Meng et al., 2022). Next, to better understand the discrepancy between representation denoising and weight editing, we develop several variants of the editing problem that appear more and more like representation denoising in their design and objective. Experiments show that, for one of our editing problems, editing performance does relate to localization results from representation denoising, but we find that which layer we edit is a far better predictor of performance. Our results suggest, counterintuitively, that better mechanistic understanding of how pretrained language models work may not always translate to insights about how to best change their behavior. Code is available at: https://github.com/google/belief-localization
Despite a sea of interpretability methods that can produce plausible explanations, the field has also empirically seen many failure cases of such methods. In light of these results, it remains unclear for practitioners how to use these methods and choose between them in a principled way. In this paper, we show that for even moderately rich model classes (easily satisfied by neural networks), any feature attribution method that is complete and linear--for example, Integrated Gradients and SHAP--can provably fail to improve on random guessing for inferring model behaviour. Our results apply to common end-tasks such as identifying local model behaviour, spurious feature identification, and algorithmic recourse. One takeaway from our work is the importance of concretely defining end-tasks. In particular, we show that once such an end-task is defined, a simple and direct approach of repeated model evaluations can outperform many other complex feature attribution methods.