Non-contrastive self-supervised learning (NC-SSL) methods like BarlowTwins and VICReg have shown great promise for label-free representation learning in computer vision. Despite the apparent simplicity of these techniques, researchers must rely on several empirical heuristics to achieve competitive performance, most notably using high-dimensional projector heads and two augmentations of the same image. In this work, we provide theoretical insights on the implicit bias of the BarlowTwins and VICReg loss that can explain these heuristics and guide the development of more principled recommendations. Our first insight is that the orthogonality of the features is more critical than projector dimensionality for learning good representations. Based on this, we empirically demonstrate that low-dimensional projector heads are sufficient with appropriate regularization, contrary to the existing heuristic. Our second theoretical insight suggests that using multiple data augmentations better represents the desiderata of the SSL objective. Based on this, we demonstrate that leveraging more augmentations per sample improves representation quality and trainability. In particular, it improves optimization convergence, leading to better features emerging earlier in the training. Remarkably, we demonstrate that we can reduce the pretraining dataset size by up to 4x while maintaining accuracy and improving convergence simply by using more data augmentations. Combining these insights, we present practical pretraining recommendations that improve wall-clock time by 2x and improve performance on CIFAR-10/STL-10 datasets using a ResNet-50 backbone. Thus, this work provides a theoretical insight into NC-SSL and produces practical recommendations for enhancing its sample and compute efficiency.
Our ability to use deep learning approaches to decipher neural activity would likely benefit from greater scale, in terms of both model size and datasets. However, the integration of many neural recordings into one unified model is challenging, as each recording contains the activity of different neurons from different individual animals. In this paper, we introduce a training framework and architecture designed to model the population dynamics of neural activity across diverse, large-scale neural recordings. Our method first tokenizes individual spikes within the dataset to build an efficient representation of neural events that captures the fine temporal structure of neural activity. We then employ cross-attention and a PerceiverIO backbone to further construct a latent tokenization of neural population activities. Utilizing this architecture and training framework, we construct a large-scale multi-session model trained on large datasets from seven nonhuman primates, spanning over 158 different sessions of recording from over 27,373 neural units and over 100 hours of recordings. In a number of different tasks, we demonstrate that our pretrained model can be rapidly adapted to new, unseen sessions with unspecified neuron correspondence, enabling few-shot performance with minimal labels. This work presents a powerful new approach for building deep learning tools to analyze neural data and stakes out a clear path to training at scale.
Most learning algorithms in machine learning rely on gradient descent to adjust model parameters, and a growing literature in computational neuroscience leverages these ideas to study synaptic plasticity in the brain. However, the vast majority of this work ignores a critical underlying assumption: the choice of distance for synaptic changes (i.e. the geometry of synaptic plasticity). Gradient descent assumes that the distance is Euclidean, but many other distances are possible, and there is no reason that biology necessarily uses Euclidean geometry. Here, using the theoretical tools provided by mirror descent, we show that, regardless of the loss being minimized, the distribution of synaptic weights will depend on the geometry of synaptic plasticity. We use these results to show that experimentally-observed log-normal weight distributions found in several brain areas are not consistent with standard gradient descent (i.e. a Euclidean geometry), but rather with non-Euclidean distances. Finally, we show that it should be possible to experimentally test for different synaptic geometries by comparing synaptic weight distributions before and after learning. Overall, this work shows that the current paradigm in theoretical work on synaptic plasticity that assumes Euclidean synaptic geometry may be misguided and that it should be possible to experimentally determine the true geometry of synaptic plasticity in the brain.
When presented with a data stream of two statistically dependent variables, predicting the future of one of the variables (the target stream) can benefit from information about both its history and the history of the other variable (the source stream). For example, fluctuations in temperature at a weather station can be predicted using both temperatures and barometric readings. However, a challenge when modelling such data is that it is easy for a neural network to rely on the greatest joint correlations within the target stream, which may ignore a crucial but small information transfer from the source to the target stream. As well, there are often situations where the target stream may have previously been modelled independently and it would be useful to use that model to inform a new joint model. Here, we develop an information bottleneck approach for conditional learning on two dependent streams of data. Our method, which we call Transfer Entropy Bottleneck (TEB), allows one to learn a model that bottlenecks the directed information transferred from the source variable to the target variable, while quantifying this information transfer within the model. As such, TEB provides a useful new information bottleneck approach for modelling two statistically dependent streams of data in order to make predictions about one of them.
Reinforcement learning (RL) algorithms have achieved notable success in recent years, but still struggle with fundamental issues in long-term credit assignment. It remains difficult to learn in situations where success is contingent upon multiple critical steps that are distant in time from each other and from a sparse reward; as is often the case in real life. Moreover, how RL algorithms assign credit in these difficult situations is typically not coded in a way that can rapidly generalize to new situations. Here, we present an approach using offline contrastive learning, which we call contrastive introspection (ConSpec), that can be added to any existing RL algorithm and addresses both issues. In ConSpec, a contrastive loss is used during offline replay to identify invariances among successful episodes. This takes advantage of the fact that it is easier to retrospectively identify the small set of steps that success is contingent upon than it is to prospectively predict reward at every step taken in the environment. ConSpec stores this knowledge in a collection of prototypes summarizing the intermediate states required for success. During training, arrival at any state that matches these prototypes generates an intrinsic reward that is added to any external rewards. As well, the reward shaping provided by ConSpec can be made to preserve the optimal policy of the underlying RL agent. The prototypes in ConSpec provide two key benefits for credit assignment: (1) They enable rapid identification of all the critical states. (2) They do so in a readily interpretable manner, enabling out of distribution generalization when sensory features are altered. In summary, ConSpec is a modular system that can be added to any existing RL algorithm to improve its long-term credit assignment.
Current deep learning approaches have shown good in-distribution generalization performance, but struggle with out-of-distribution generalization. This is especially true in the case of tasks involving abstract relations like recognizing rules in sequences, as we find in many intelligence tests. Recent work has explored how forcing relational representations to remain distinct from sensory representations, as it seems to be the case in the brain, can help artificial systems. Building on this work, we further explore and formalize the advantages afforded by 'partitioned' representations of relations and sensory details, and how this inductive bias can help recompose learned relational structure in newly encountered settings. We introduce a simple architecture based on similarity scores which we name Compositional Relational Network (CoRelNet). Using this model, we investigate a series of inductive biases that ensure abstract relations are learned and represented distinctly from sensory data, and explore their effects on out-of-distribution generalization for a series of relational psychophysics tasks. We find that simple architectural choices can outperform existing models in out-of-distribution generalization. Together, these results show that partitioning relational representations from other information streams may be a simple way to augment existing network architectures' robustness when performing out-of-distribution relational computations.
Creating agents that can interact naturally with humans is a common goal in artificial intelligence (AI) research. However, evaluating these interactions is challenging: collecting online human-agent interactions is slow and expensive, yet faster proxy metrics often do not correlate well with interactive evaluation. In this paper, we assess the merits of these existing evaluation metrics and present a novel approach to evaluation called the Standardised Test Suite (STS). The STS uses behavioural scenarios mined from real human interaction data. Agents see replayed scenario context, receive an instruction, and are then given control to complete the interaction offline. These agent continuations are recorded and sent to human annotators to mark as success or failure, and agents are ranked according to the proportion of continuations in which they succeed. The resulting STS is fast, controlled, interpretable, and representative of naturalistic interactions. Altogether, the STS consolidates much of what is desirable across many of our standard evaluation metrics, allowing us to accelerate research progress towards producing agents that can interact naturally with humans. https://youtu.be/YR1TngGORGQ
Representation learning that leverages large-scale labelled datasets, is central to recent progress in machine learning. Access to task relevant labels at scale is often scarce or expensive, motivating the need to learn from unlabelled datasets with self-supervised learning (SSL). Such large unlabelled datasets (with data augmentations) often provide a good coverage of the underlying input distribution. However evaluating the representations learned by SSL algorithms still requires task-specific labelled samples in the training pipeline. Additionally, the generalization of task-specific encoding is often sensitive to potential distribution shift. Inspired by recent advances in theoretical machine learning and vision neuroscience, we observe that the eigenspectrum of the empirical feature covariance matrix often follows a power law. For visual representations, we estimate the coefficient of the power law, $\alpha$, across three key attributes which influence representation learning: learning objective (supervised, SimCLR, Barlow Twins and BYOL), network architecture (VGG, ResNet and Vision Transformer), and tasks (object and scene recognition). We observe that under mild conditions, proximity of $\alpha$ to 1, is strongly correlated to the downstream generalization performance. Furthermore, $\alpha \approx 1$ is a strong indicator of robustness to label noise during fine-tuning. Notably, $\alpha$ is computable from the representations without knowledge of any labels, thereby offering a framework to evaluate the quality of representations in unlabelled datasets.
The development of biologically-plausible learning algorithms is important for understanding learning in the brain, but most of them fail to scale-up to real-world tasks, limiting their potential as explanations for learning by real brains. As such, it is important to explore learning algorithms that come with strong theoretical guarantees and can match the performance of backpropagation (BP) on complex tasks. One such algorithm is Difference Target Propagation (DTP), a biologically-plausible learning algorithm whose close relation with Gauss-Newton (GN) optimization has been recently established. However, the conditions under which this connection rigorously holds preclude layer-wise training of the feedback pathway synaptic weights (which is more biologically plausible). Moreover, good alignment between DTP weight updates and loss gradients is only loosely guaranteed and under very specific conditions for the architecture being trained. In this paper, we propose a novel feedback weight training scheme that ensures both that DTP approximates BP and that layer-wise feedback weight training can be restored without sacrificing any theoretical guarantees. Our theory is corroborated by experimental results and we report the best performance ever achieved by DTP on CIFAR-10 and ImageNet 32$\times$32