The generalization of machine learning (ML) models to out-of-distribution (OOD) examples remains a key challenge in extracting information from upcoming astronomical surveys. Interpretability approaches are a natural way to gain insights into the OOD generalization problem. We use Centered Kernel Alignment (CKA), a similarity measure metric of neural network representations, to examine the relationship between representation similarity and performance of pre-trained Convolutional Neural Networks (CNNs) on the CAMELS Multifield Dataset. We find that when models are robust to a distribution shift, they produce substantially different representations across their layers on OOD data. However, when they fail to generalize, these representations change less from layer to layer on OOD data. We discuss the potential application of similarity representation in guiding model design, training strategy, and mitigating the OOD problem by incorporating CKA as an inductive bias during training.
* Accepted to Machine Learning and the Physical Sciences Workshop,
The degree to which neural networks can generalize to new combinations of familiar concepts, and the conditions under which they are able to do so, has long been an open question. In this work, we study the systematicity gap in visual question answering: the performance difference between reasoning on previously seen and unseen combinations of object attributes. To test, we introduce a novel diagnostic dataset, CLEVR-HOPE. We find that while increased quantity of training data does not reduce the systematicity gap, increased training data diversity of the attributes in the unseen combination does. In all, our experiments suggest that the more distinct attribute type combinations are seen during training, the more systematic we can expect the resulting model to be.
Many NLP researchers are experiencing an existential crisis triggered by the astonishing success of ChatGPT and other systems based on large language models (LLMs). After such a disruptive change to our understanding of the field, what is left to do? Taking a historical lens, we look for guidance from the first era of LLMs, which began in 2005 with large $n$-gram models for machine translation. We identify durable lessons from the first era, and more importantly, we identify evergreen problems where NLP researchers can continue to make meaningful contributions in areas where LLMs are ascendant. Among these lessons, we discuss the primacy of hardware advancement in shaping the availability and importance of scale, as well as the urgent challenge of quality evaluation, both automated and human. We argue that disparities in scale are transient and that researchers can work to reduce them; that data, rather than hardware, is still a bottleneck for many meaningful applications; that meaningful evaluation informed by actual use is still an open problem; and that there is still room for speculative approaches.
By reducing the curvature of the loss surface in the parameter space, Sharpness-aware minimization (SAM) yields widespread robustness improvement under domain transfer. Instead of focusing on parameters, however, this work considers the transferability of representations as the optimization target for out-of-domain generalization in a fine-tuning setup. To encourage the retention of transferable representations, we consider trust region-based fine-tuning methods, which exploit task-specific skills without forgetting task-agnostic representations from pre-training. We unify parameter- and representation-space smoothing approaches by using trust region bounds to inform SAM-style regularizers on both of these optimization surfaces. We propose Trust Region Aware Minimization (TRAM), a fine-tuning algorithm that optimizes for flat minima and smooth, informative representations without forgetting pre-trained structure. We find that TRAM outperforms both sharpness-aware and trust region-based optimization methods on cross-domain language modeling and cross-lingual transfer, where robustness to domain transfer and representation generality are critical for success. TRAM establishes a new standard in training generalizable models with minimal additional computation.
Most interpretability research in NLP focuses on understanding the behavior and features of a fully trained model. However, certain insights into model behavior may only be accessible by observing the trajectory of the training process. We present a case study of syntax acquisition in masked language models (MLMs) that demonstrates how analyzing the evolution of interpretable artifacts throughout training deepens our understanding of emergent behavior. In particular, we study Syntactic Attention Structure (SAS), a naturally emerging property of MLMs wherein specific Transformer heads tend to focus on specific syntactic relations. We identify a brief window in pretraining when models abruptly acquire SAS, concurrent with a steep drop in loss. This breakthrough precipitates the subsequent acquisition of linguistic capabilities. We then examine the causal role of SAS by manipulating SAS during training, and demonstrate that SAS is necessary for the development of grammatical capabilities. We further find that SAS competes with other beneficial traits during training, and that briefly suppressing SAS improves model quality. These findings offer an interpretation of a real-world example of both simplicity bias and breakthrough training dynamics.
The impact of randomness on model training is poorly understood. How do differences in data order and initialization actually manifest in the model, such that some training runs outperform others or converge faster? Furthermore, how can we interpret the resulting training dynamics and the phase transitions that characterize different trajectories? To understand the effect of randomness on the dynamics and outcomes of neural network training, we train models multiple times with different random seeds and compute a variety of metrics throughout training, such as the $L_2$ norm, mean, and variance of the neural network's weights. We then fit a hidden Markov model (HMM) over the resulting sequences of metrics. The HMM represents training as a stochastic process of transitions between latent states, providing an intuitive overview of significant changes during training. Using our method, we produce a low-dimensional, discrete representation of training dynamics on grokking tasks, image classification, and masked language modeling. We use the HMM representation to study phase transitions and identify latent "detour" states that slow down convergence.
Most works on transformers trained with the Masked Language Modeling (MLM) objective use the original BERT model's fixed masking rate of 15%. Our work instead dynamically schedules the masking ratio throughout training. We found that linearly decreasing the masking rate from 30% to 15% over the course of pretraining improves average GLUE accuracy by 0.46% in BERT-base, compared to a standard 15% fixed rate. Further analyses demonstrate that the gains from scheduling come from being exposed to both high and low masking rate regimes. Our results demonstrate that masking rate scheduling is a simple way to improve the quality of masked language models and achieve up to a 1.89x speedup in pretraining.
At NeurIPS, American and Chinese institutions cite papers from each other's regions substantially less than they cite endogamously. We build a citation graph to quantify this divide, compare it to European connectivity, and discuss the causes and consequences of the separation.
* Workshop on Cultures of AI and AI for Culture @ NeurIPS 2022
The ability to generalise well is one of the primary desiderata of natural language processing (NLP). Yet, what `good generalisation' entails and how it should be evaluated is not well understood, nor are there any common standards to evaluate it. In this paper, we aim to lay the ground-work to improve both of these issues. We present a taxonomy for characterising and understanding generalisation research in NLP, we use that taxonomy to present a comprehensive map of published generalisation studies, and we make recommendations for which areas might deserve attention in the future. Our taxonomy is based on an extensive literature review of generalisation research, and contains five axes along which studies can differ: their main motivation, the type of generalisation they aim to solve, the type of data shift they consider, the source by which this data shift is obtained, and the locus of the shift within the modelling pipeline. We use our taxonomy to classify over 400 previous papers that test generalisation, for a total of more than 600 individual experiments. Considering the results of this review, we present an in-depth analysis of the current state of generalisation research in NLP, and make recommendations for the future. Along with this paper, we release a webpage where the results of our review can be dynamically explored, and which we intend to up-date as new NLP generalisation studies are published. With this work, we aim to make steps towards making state-of-the-art generalisation testing the new status quo in NLP.