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Abstract:Understanding how semantic meaning is encoded in the representation spaces of large language models is a fundamental problem in interpretability. In this paper, we study the two foundational questions in this area. First, how are categorical concepts, such as {'mammal', 'bird', 'reptile', 'fish'}, represented? Second, how are hierarchical relations between concepts encoded? For example, how is the fact that 'dog' is a kind of 'mammal' encoded? We show how to extend the linear representation hypothesis to answer these questions. We find a remarkably simple structure: simple categorical concepts are represented as simplices, hierarchically related concepts are orthogonal in a sense we make precise, and (in consequence) complex concepts are represented as polytopes constructed from direct sums of simplices, reflecting the hierarchical structure. We validate these theoretical results on the Gemma large language model, estimating representations for 957 hierarchically related concepts using data from WordNet.

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Abstract:Informally, the 'linear representation hypothesis' is the idea that high-level concepts are represented linearly as directions in some representation space. In this paper, we address two closely related questions: What does "linear representation" actually mean? And, how do we make sense of geometric notions (e.g., cosine similarity or projection) in the representation space? To answer these, we use the language of counterfactuals to give two formalizations of "linear representation", one in the output (word) representation space, and one in the input (sentence) space. We then prove these connect to linear probing and model steering, respectively. To make sense of geometric notions, we use the formalization to identify a particular (non-Euclidean) inner product that respects language structure in a sense we make precise. Using this causal inner product, we show how to unify all notions of linear representation. In particular, this allows the construction of probes and steering vectors using counterfactual pairs. Experiments with LLaMA-2 demonstrate the existence of linear representations of concepts, the connection to interpretation and control, and the fundamental role of the choice of inner product.

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