Recent advances in theoretical biology suggest that basal cognition and sentient behaviour are emergent properties of in vitro cell cultures and neuronal networks, respectively. Such neuronal networks spontaneously learn structured behaviours in the absence of reward or reinforcement. In this paper, we characterise this kind of self-organisation through the lens of the free energy principle, i.e., as self-evidencing. We do this by first discussing the definitions of reactive and sentient behaviour in the setting of active inference, which describes the behaviour of agents that model the consequences of their actions. We then introduce a formal account of intentional behaviour, that describes agents as driven by a preferred endpoint or goal in latent state-spaces. We then investigate these forms of (reactive, sentient, and intentional) behaviour using simulations. First, we simulate the aforementioned in vitro experiments, in which neuronal cultures spontaneously learn to play Pong, by implementing nested, free energy minimising processes. The simulations are then used to deconstruct the ensuing predictive behaviour, leading to the distinction between merely reactive, sentient, and intentional behaviour, with the latter formalised in terms of inductive planning. This distinction is further studied using simple machine learning benchmarks (navigation in a grid world and the Tower of Hanoi problem), that show how quickly and efficiently adaptive behaviour emerges under an inductive form of active inference.
Artificial intelligence (AI) is rapidly becoming one of the key technologies of this century. The majority of results in AI thus far have been achieved using deep neural networks trained with the error backpropagation learning algorithm. However, the ubiquitous adoption of this approach has highlighted some important limitations such as substantial computational cost, difficulty in quantifying uncertainty, lack of robustness, unreliability, and biological implausibility. It is possible that addressing these limitations may require schemes that are inspired and guided by neuroscience theories. One such theory, called predictive coding (PC), has shown promising performance in machine intelligence tasks, exhibiting exciting properties that make it potentially valuable for the machine learning community: PC can model information processing in different brain areas, can be used in cognitive control and robotics, and has a solid mathematical grounding in variational inference, offering a powerful inversion scheme for a specific class of continuous-state generative models. With the hope of foregrounding research in this direction, we survey the literature that has contributed to this perspective, highlighting the many ways that PC might play a role in the future of machine learning and computational intelligence at large.
Predictive coding (PC) is a brain-inspired local learning algorithm that has recently been suggested to provide advantages over backpropagation (BP) in biologically relevant scenarios. While theoretical work has mainly focused on showing how PC can approximate BP in various limits, the putative benefits of "natural" PC are less understood. Here we develop a theory of PC as an adaptive trust-region (TR) algorithm that uses second-order information. We show that the learning dynamics of PC can be interpreted as interpolating between BP's loss gradient direction and a TR direction found by the PC inference dynamics. Our theory suggests that PC should escape saddle points faster than BP, a prediction which we prove in a shallow linear model and support with experiments on deeper networks. This work lays a foundation for understanding PC in deep and wide networks.
Attention mechanisms are a central property of cognitive systems allowing them to selectively deploy cognitive resources in a flexible manner. Attention has been long studied in the neurosciences and there are numerous phenomenological models that try to capture its core properties. Recently attentional mechanisms have become a dominating architectural choice of machine learning and are the central innovation of Transformers. The dominant intuition and formalism underlying their development has drawn on ideas of keys and queries in database management systems. In this work, we propose an alternative Bayesian foundation for attentional mechanisms and show how this unifies different attentional architectures in machine learning. This formulation allows to to identify commonality across different attention ML architectures as well as suggest a bridge to those developed in neuroscience. We hope this work will guide more sophisticated intuitions into the key properties of attention architectures and suggest new ones.
Language models (LMs) are pretrained to imitate internet text, including content that would violate human preferences if generated by an LM: falsehoods, offensive comments, personally identifiable information, low-quality or buggy code, and more. Here, we explore alternative objectives for pretraining LMs in a way that also guides them to generate text aligned with human preferences. We benchmark five objectives for pretraining with human feedback across three tasks and study how they affect the trade-off between alignment and capabilities of pretrained LMs. We find a Pareto-optimal and simple approach among those we explored: conditional training, or learning distribution over tokens conditional on their human preference scores given by a reward model. Conditional training reduces the rate of undesirable content by up to an order of magnitude, both when generating without a prompt and with an adversarially-chosen prompt. Moreover, conditional training maintains the downstream task performance of standard LM pretraining, both before and after task-specific finetuning. Pretraining with human feedback results in much better preference satisfaction than standard LM pretraining followed by finetuning with feedback, i.e., learning and then unlearning undesirable behavior. Our results suggest that we should move beyond imitation learning when pretraining LMs and incorporate human preferences from the start of training.
Active inference is a mathematical framework which originated in computational neuroscience as a theory of how the brain implements action, perception and learning. Recently, it has been shown to be a promising approach to the problems of state-estimation and control under uncertainty, as well as a foundation for the construction of goal-driven behaviours in robotics and artificial agents in general. Here, we review the state-of-the-art theory and implementations of active inference for state-estimation, control, planning and learning; describing current achievements with a particular focus on robotics. We showcase relevant experiments that illustrate its potential in terms of adaptation, generalization and robustness. Furthermore, we connect this approach with other frameworks and discuss its expected benefits and challenges: a unified framework with functional biological plausibility using variational Bayesian inference.
* This manuscript is under review in a IEEE journal
In cognitive science, behaviour is often separated into two types. Reflexive control is habitual and immediate, whereas reflective is deliberative and time consuming. We examine the argument that Hierarchical Predictive Coding (HPC) can explain both types of behaviour as a continuum operating across a multi-layered network, removing the need for separate circuits in the brain. On this view, "fast" actions may be triggered using only the lower layers of the HPC schema, whereas more deliberative actions need higher layers. We demonstrate that HPC can distribute learning throughout its hierarchy, with higher layers called into use only as required.
The field of reinforcement learning can be split into model-based and model-free methods. Here, we unify these approaches by casting model-free policy optimisation as amortised variational inference, and model-based planning as iterative variational inference, within a `control as hybrid inference' (CHI) framework. We present an implementation of CHI which naturally mediates the balance between iterative and amortised inference. Using a didactic experiment, we demonstrate that the proposed algorithm operates in a model-based manner at the onset of learning, before converging to a model-free algorithm once sufficient data have been collected. We verify the scalability of our algorithm on a continuous control benchmark, demonstrating that it outperforms strong model-free and model-based baselines. CHI thus provides a principled framework for harnessing the sample efficiency of model-based planning while retaining the asymptotic performance of model-free policy optimisation.
Backpropagation of error (backprop) is a powerful algorithm for training machine learning architectures through end-to-end differentiation. However, backprop is often criticised for lacking biological plausibility. Recently, it has been shown that backprop in multilayer-perceptrons (MLPs) can be approximated using predictive coding, a biologically-plausible process theory of cortical computation which relies only on local and Hebbian updates. The power of backprop, however, lies not in its instantiation in MLPs, but rather in the concept of automatic differentiation which allows for the optimisation of any differentiable program expressed as a computation graph. Here, we demonstrate that predictive coding converges asymptotically (and in practice rapidly) to exact backprop gradients on arbitrary computation graphs using only local learning rules. We apply this result to develop a straightforward strategy to translate core machine learning architectures into their predictive coding equivalents. We construct predictive coding CNNs, RNNs, and the more complex LSTMs, which include a non-layer-like branching internal graph structure and multiplicative interactions. Our models perform equivalently to backprop on challenging machine learning benchmarks, while utilising only local and (mostly) Hebbian plasticity. Our method raises the potential that standard machine learning algorithms could in principle be directly implemented in neural circuitry, and may also contribute to the development of completely distributed neuromorphic architectures.
* Submitted to NeurIPS 2020. Updated Acknowledgements. 11/06/020 --
fixed typos in maths