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Abstract:Superposition -- when a neural network represents more ``features'' than it has dimensions -- seems to pose a serious challenge to mechanistically interpreting current AI systems. Existing theory work studies \emph{representational} superposition, where superposition is only used when passing information through bottlenecks. In this work, we present mathematical models of \emph{computation} in superposition, where superposition is actively helpful for efficiently accomplishing the task. We first construct a task of efficiently emulating a circuit that takes the AND of the $\binom{m}{2}$ pairs of each of $m$ features. We construct a 1-layer MLP that uses superposition to perform this task up to $\varepsilon$-error, where the network only requires $\tilde{O}(m^{\frac{2}{3}})$ neurons, even when the input features are \emph{themselves in superposition}. We generalize this construction to arbitrary sparse boolean circuits of low depth, and then construct ``error correction'' layers that allow deep fully-connected networks of width $d$ to emulate circuits of width $\tilde{O}(d^{1.5})$ and \emph{any} polynomial depth. We conclude by providing some potential applications of our work for interpreting neural networks that implement computation in superposition.

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Authors:Jason Gross, Rajashree Agrawal, Thomas Kwa, Euan Ong, Chun Hei Yip, Alex Gibson, Soufiane Noubir, Lawrence Chan

Abstract:In this work, we propose using mechanistic interpretability -- techniques for reverse engineering model weights into human-interpretable algorithms -- to derive and compactly prove formal guarantees on model performance. We prototype this approach by formally proving lower bounds on the accuracy of 151 small transformers trained on a Max-of-$K$ task. We create 102 different computer-assisted proof strategies and assess their length and tightness of bound on each of our models. Using quantitative metrics, we find that shorter proofs seem to require and provide more mechanistic understanding. Moreover, we find that more faithful mechanistic understanding leads to tighter performance bounds. We confirm these connections by qualitatively examining a subset of our proofs. Finally, we identify compounding structureless noise as a key challenge for using mechanistic interpretability to generate compact proofs on model performance.

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Authors:Jason Gross, Rajashree Agrawal, Thomas Kwa, Euan Ong, Chun Hei Yip, Alex Gibson, Soufiane Noubir, Lawrence Chan

Abstract:In this work, we propose using mechanistic interpretability -- techniques for reverse engineering model weights into human-interpretable algorithms -- to derive and compactly prove formal guarantees on model performance. We prototype this approach by formally proving lower bounds on the accuracy of 151 small transformers trained on a Max-of-$K$ task. We create 102 different computer-assisted proof strategies and assess their length and tightness of bound on each of our models. Using quantitative metrics, we find that shorter proofs seem to require and provide more mechanistic understanding. Moreover, we find that more faithful mechanistic understanding leads to tighter performance bounds. We confirm these connections by qualitatively examining a subset of our proofs. Finally, we identify compounding structureless noise as a key challenge for using mechanistic interpretability to generate compact proofs on model performance.

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Authors:Megan Kinniment, Lucas Jun Koba Sato, Haoxing Du, Brian Goodrich, Max Hasin, Lawrence Chan, Luke Harold Miles, Tao R. Lin, Hjalmar Wijk, Joel Burget(+3 more)

Abstract:In this report, we explore the ability of language model agents to acquire resources, create copies of themselves, and adapt to novel challenges they encounter in the wild. We refer to this cluster of capabilities as "autonomous replication and adaptation" or ARA. We believe that systems capable of ARA could have wide-reaching and hard-to-anticipate consequences, and that measuring and forecasting ARA may be useful for informing measures around security, monitoring, and alignment. Additionally, once a system is capable of ARA, placing bounds on a system's capabilities may become significantly more difficult. We construct four simple example agents that combine language models with tools that allow them to take actions in the world. We then evaluate these agents on 12 tasks relevant to ARA. We find that these language model agents can only complete the easiest tasks from this list, although they make some progress on the more challenging tasks. Unfortunately, these evaluations are not adequate to rule out the possibility that near-future agents will be capable of ARA. In particular, we do not think that these evaluations provide good assurance that the ``next generation'' of language models (e.g. 100x effective compute scaleup on existing models) will not yield agents capable of ARA, unless intermediate evaluations are performed during pretraining. Relatedly, we expect that fine-tuning of the existing models could produce substantially more competent agents, even if the fine-tuning is not directly targeted at ARA.

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Abstract:Universality is a key hypothesis in mechanistic interpretability -- that different models learn similar features and circuits when trained on similar tasks. In this work, we study the universality hypothesis by examining how small neural networks learn to implement group composition. We present a novel algorithm by which neural networks may implement composition for any finite group via mathematical representation theory. We then show that networks consistently learn this algorithm by reverse engineering model logits and weights, and confirm our understanding using ablations. By studying networks of differing architectures trained on various groups, we find mixed evidence for universality: using our algorithm, we can completely characterize the family of circuits and features that networks learn on this task, but for a given network the precise circuits learned -- as well as the order they develop -- are arbitrary.

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Abstract:Neural networks often exhibit emergent behavior, where qualitatively new capabilities arise from scaling up the amount of parameters, training data, or training steps. One approach to understanding emergence is to find continuous \textit{progress measures} that underlie the seemingly discontinuous qualitative changes. We argue that progress measures can be found via mechanistic interpretability: reverse-engineering learned behaviors into their individual components. As a case study, we investigate the recently-discovered phenomenon of ``grokking'' exhibited by small transformers trained on modular addition tasks. We fully reverse engineer the algorithm learned by these networks, which uses discrete Fourier transforms and trigonometric identities to convert addition to rotation about a circle. We confirm the algorithm by analyzing the activations and weights and by performing ablations in Fourier space. Based on this understanding, we define progress measures that allow us to study the dynamics of training and split training into three continuous phases: memorization, circuit formation, and cleanup. Our results show that grokking, rather than being a sudden shift, arises from the gradual amplification of structured mechanisms encoded in the weights, followed by the later removal of memorizing components.

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Abstract:Current language models are considered to have sub-human capabilities at natural language tasks like question-answering or writing code. However, language models are not trained to perform well at these tasks, they are trained to accurately predict the next token given previous tokes in tokenized text. It is not clear whether language models are better or worse than humans at next token prediction. To try to answer this question, we performed two distinct experiments to directly compare humans and language models on this front: one measuring top-1 accuracy and the other measuring perplexity. In both experiments, we find humans to be consistently \emph{worse} than even relatively small language models like GPT3-Ada at next-token prediction.

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Authors:Daniel M. Ziegler, Seraphina Nix, Lawrence Chan, Tim Bauman, Peter Schmidt-Nielsen, Tao Lin, Adam Scherlis, Noa Nabeshima, Ben Weinstein-Raun, Daniel de Haas(+2 more)

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Abstract:In the future, powerful AI systems may be deployed in high-stakes settings, where a single failure could be catastrophic. One technique for improving AI safety in high-stakes settings is adversarial training, which uses an adversary to generate examples to train on in order to achieve better worst-case performance. In this work, we used a language generation task as a testbed for achieving high reliability through adversarial training. We created a series of adversarial training techniques -- including a tool that assists human adversaries -- to find and eliminate failures in a classifier that filters text completions suggested by a generator. In our simple "avoid injuries" task, we determined that we can set very conservative classifier thresholds without significantly impacting the quality of the filtered outputs. With our chosen thresholds, filtering with our baseline classifier decreases the rate of unsafe completions from about 2.4% to 0.003% on in-distribution data, which is near the limit of our ability to measure. We found that adversarial training significantly increased robustness to the adversarial attacks that we trained on, without affecting in-distribution performance. We hope to see further work in the high-stakes reliability setting, including more powerful tools for enhancing human adversaries and better ways to measure high levels of reliability, until we can confidently rule out the possibility of catastrophic deployment-time failures of powerful models.

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Abstract:Assuming humans are (approximately) rational enables robots to infer reward functions by observing human behavior. But people exhibit a wide array of irrationalities, and our goal with this work is to better understand the effect they can have on reward inference. The challenge with studying this effect is that there are many types of irrationality, with varying degrees of mathematical formalization. We thus operationalize irrationality in the language of MDPs, by altering the Bellman optimality equation, and use this framework to study how these alterations would affect inference. We find that wrongly modeling a systematically irrational human as noisy-rational performs a lot worse than correctly capturing these biases -- so much so that it can be better to skip inference altogether and stick to the prior! More importantly, we show that an irrational human, when correctly modelled, can communicate more information about the reward than a perfectly rational human can. That is, if a robot has the correct model of a human's irrationality, it can make an even stronger inference than it ever could if the human were rational. Irrationality fundamentally helps rather than hinder reward inference, but it needs to be correctly accounted for.

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Abstract:Many robotics domains use some form of nonconvex model predictive control (MPC) for planning, which sets a reduced time horizon, performs trajectory optimization, and replans at every step. The actual task typically requires a much longer horizon than is computationally tractable, and is specified via a cost function that cumulates over that full horizon. For instance, an autonomous car may have a cost function that makes a desired trade-off between efficiency, safety, and obeying traffic laws. In this work, we challenge the common assumption that the cost we optimize using MPC should be the same as the ground truth cost for the task (plus a terminal cost). MPC solvers can suffer from short planning horizons, local optima, incorrect dynamics models, and, importantly, fail to account for future replanning ability. Thus, we propose that in many tasks it could be beneficial to purposefully choose a different cost function for MPC to optimize: one that results in the MPC rollout having low ground truth cost, rather than the MPC planned trajectory. We formalize this as an optimal cost design problem, and propose a zeroth-order optimization-based approach that enables us to design optimal costs for an MPC planning robot in continuous MDPs. We test our approach in an autonomous driving domain where we find costs different from the ground truth that implicitly compensate for replanning, short horizon, incorrect dynamics models, and local minima issues. As an example, the learned cost incentivizes MPC to delay its decision until later, implicitly accounting for the fact that it will get more information in the future and be able to make a better decision. Code and videos available at https://sites.google.com/berkeley.edu/ocd-mpc/.

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