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How intelligence arises from the brain is a central problem in science. A crucial aspect of intelligence is dealing with uncertainty -- developing good predictions about one's environment, and converting these predictions into decisions. The brain itself seems to be noisy at many levels, from chemical processes which drive development and neuronal activity to trial variability of responses to stimuli. One hypothesis is that the noise inherent to the brain's mechanisms is used to sample from a model of the world and generate predictions. To test this hypothesis, we study the emergence of statistical learning in NEMO, a biologically plausible computational model of the brain based on stylized neurons and synapses, plasticity, and inhibition, and giving rise to assemblies -- a group of neurons whose coordinated firing is tantamount to recalling a location, concept, memory, or other primitive item of cognition. We show in theory and simulation that connections between assemblies record statistics, and ambient noise can be harnessed to make probabilistic choices between assemblies. This allows NEMO to create internal models such as Markov chains entirely from the presentation of sequences of stimuli. Our results provide a foundation for biologically plausible probabilistic computation, and add theoretical support to the hypothesis that noise is a useful component of the brain's mechanism for cognition.

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We present a new random walk for uniformly sampling high-dimensional convex bodies. It achieves state-of-the-art runtime complexity with stronger guarantees on the output than previously known, namely in R\'enyi divergence (which implies TV, $\mathcal{W}_2$, KL, $\chi^2$). The proof departs from known approaches for polytime algorithms for the problem -- we utilize a stochastic diffusion perspective to show contraction to the target distribution with the rate of convergence determined by functional isoperimetric constants of the stationary density.

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Recent language models generate false but plausible-sounding text with surprising frequency. Such "hallucinations" are an obstacle to the usability of language-based AI systems and can harm people who rely upon their outputs. This work shows shows that there is an inherent statistical lower-bound on the rate that pretrained language models hallucinate certain types of facts, having nothing to do with the transformer LM architecture or data quality. For "arbitrary" facts whose veracity cannot be determined from the training data, we show that hallucinations must occur at a certain rate for language models that satisfy a statistical calibration condition appropriate for generative language models. Specifically, if the maximum probability of any fact is bounded, we show that the probability of generating a hallucination is close to the fraction of facts that occur exactly once in the training data (a "Good-Turing" estimate), even assuming ideal training data without errors. One conclusion is that models pretrained to be sufficiently good predictors (i.e., calibrated) may require post-training to mitigate hallucinations on the type of arbitrary facts that tend to appear once in the training set. However, our analysis also suggests that there is no statistical reason that pretraining will lead to hallucination on facts that tend to appear more than once in the training data (like references to publications such as articles and books, whose hallucinations have been particularly notable and problematic) or on systematic facts (like arithmetic calculations). Therefore, different architectures and learning algorithms may mitigate these latter types of hallucinations.

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We give a polynomial-time algorithm for learning high-dimensional halfspaces with margins in $d$-dimensional space to within desired TV distance when the ambient distribution is an unknown affine transformation of the $d$-fold product of an (unknown) symmetric one-dimensional logconcave distribution, and the halfspace is introduced by deleting at least an $\epsilon$ fraction of the data in one of the component distributions. Notably, our algorithm does not need labels and establishes the unique (and efficient) identifiability of the hidden halfspace under this distributional assumption. The sample and time complexity of the algorithm are polynomial in the dimension and $1/\epsilon$. The algorithm uses only the first two moments of suitable re-weightings of the empirical distribution, which we call contrastive moments; its analysis uses classical facts about generalized Dirichlet polynomials and relies crucially on a new monotonicity property of the moment ratio of truncations of logconcave distributions. Such algorithms, based only on first and second moments were suggested in earlier work, but hitherto eluded rigorous guarantees. Prior work addressed the special case when the underlying distribution is Gaussian via Non-Gaussian Component Analysis. We improve on this by providing polytime guarantees based on Total Variation (TV) distance, in place of existing moment-bound guarantees that can be super-polynomial. Our work is also the first to go beyond Gaussians in this setting.

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Semi-definite programs represent a frontier of efficient computation. While there has been much progress on semi-definite optimization, with moderate-sized instances currently solvable in practice by the interior-point method, the basic problem of sampling semi-definite solutions remains a formidable challenge. The direct application of known polynomial-time algorithms for sampling general convex bodies to semi-definite sampling leads to a prohibitively high running time. In addition, known general methods require an expensive rounding phase as pre-processing. Here we analyze the Dikin walk, by first adapting it to general metrics, then devising suitable metrics for the PSD cone with affine constraints. The resulting mixing time and per-step complexity are considerably smaller, and by an appropriate choice of the metric, the dependence on the number of constraints can be made polylogarithmic. We introduce a refined notion of self-concordant matrix functions and give rules for combining different metrics. Along the way, we further develop the theory of interior-point methods for sampling.

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Even as machine learning exceeds human-level performance on many applications, the generality, robustness, and rapidity of the brain's learning capabilities remain unmatched. How cognition arises from neural activity is a central open question in neuroscience, inextricable from the study of intelligence itself. A simple formal model of neural activity was proposed in Papadimitriou [2020] and has been subsequently shown, through both mathematical proofs and simulations, to be capable of implementing certain simple cognitive operations via the creation and manipulation of assemblies of neurons. However, many intelligent behaviors rely on the ability to recognize, store, and manipulate temporal sequences of stimuli (planning, language, navigation, to list a few). Here we show that, in the same model, time can be captured naturally as precedence through synaptic weights and plasticity, and, as a result, a range of computations on sequences of assemblies can be carried out. In particular, repeated presentation of a sequence of stimuli leads to the memorization of the sequence through corresponding neural assemblies: upon future presentation of any stimulus in the sequence, the corresponding assembly and its subsequent ones will be activated, one after the other, until the end of the sequence. Finally, we show that any finite state machine can be learned in a similar way, through the presentation of appropriate patterns of sequences. Through an extension of this mechanism, the model can be shown to be capable of universal computation. We support our analysis with a number of experiments to probe the limits of learning in this model in key ways. Taken together, these results provide a concrete hypothesis for the basis of the brain's remarkable abilities to compute and learn, with sequences playing a vital role.

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We analyze Riemannian Hamiltonian Monte Carlo (RHMC) for sampling a polytope defined by $m$ inequalities in $\R^n$ endowed with the metric defined by the Hessian of a self-concordant convex barrier function. We use a hybrid of the $p$-Lewis weight barrier and the standard logarithmic barrier and prove that the mixing rate is bounded by $\tilde O(m^{1/3}n^{4/3})$, improving on the previous best bound of $\tilde O(mn^{2/3})$, based on the log barrier. Our analysis overcomes several technical challenges to establish this result, in the process deriving smoothness bounds on Hamiltonian curves and extending self-concordance notions to the infinity norm; both properties appear to be of independent interest.

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We present a polynomial-time algorithm for robustly learning an unknown affine transformation of the standard hypercube from samples, an important and well-studied setting for independent component analysis (ICA). Specifically, given an $\epsilon$-corrupted sample from a distribution $D$ obtained by applying an unknown affine transformation $x \rightarrow Ax+s$ to the uniform distribution on a $d$-dimensional hypercube $[-1,1]^d$, our algorithm constructs $\hat{A}, \hat{s}$ such that the total variation distance of the distribution $\hat{D}$ from $D$ is $O(\epsilon)$ using poly$(d)$ time and samples. Total variation distance is the information-theoretically strongest possible notion of distance in our setting and our recovery guarantees in this distance are optimal up to the absolute constant factor multiplying $\epsilon$. In particular, if the columns of $A$ are normalized to be unit length, our total variation distance guarantee implies a bound on the sum of the $\ell_2$ distances between the column vectors of $A$ and $A'$, $\sum_{i =1}^d \|a_i-\hat{a}_i\|_2 = O(\epsilon)$. In contrast, the strongest known prior results only yield a $\epsilon^{O(1)}$ (relative) bound on the distance between individual $a_i$'s and their estimates and translate into an $O(d\epsilon)$ bound on the total variation distance. Our key innovation is a new approach to ICA (even to outlier-free ICA) that circumvents the difficulties in the classical method of moments and instead relies on a new geometric certificate of correctness of an affine transformation. Our algorithm is based on a new method that iteratively improves an estimate of the unknown affine transformation whenever the requirements of the certificate are not met.

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We study the convergence rate of discretized Riemannian Hamiltonian Monte Carlo on sampling from distributions in the form of $e^{-f(x)}$ on a convex set $\mathcal{M}\subset\mathbb{R}^{n}$. We show that for distributions in the form of $e^{-\alpha^{\top}x}$ on a polytope with $m$ constraints, the convergence rate of a family of commonly-used integrators is independent of $\left\Vert \alpha\right\Vert_2$ and the geometry of the polytope. In particular, the Implicit Midpoint Method (IMM) and the generalized Leapfrog integrator (LM) have a mixing time of $\widetilde{O}\left(mn^{3}\right)$ to achieve $\epsilon$ total variation distance to the target distribution. These guarantees are based on a general bound on the convergence rate for densities of the form $e^{-f(x)}$ in terms of parameters of the manifold and the integrator. Our theoretical guarantee complements the empirical results of [KLSV22], which shows that RHMC with IMM can sample ill-conditioned, non-smooth and constrained distributions in very high dimension efficiently in practice.

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We study approximation algorithms for the socially fair $(\ell_p, k)$-clustering problem with $m$ groups, whose special cases include the socially fair $k$-median ($p=1$) and socially fair $k$-means ($p=2$) problems. We present (1) a polynomial-time $(5+2\sqrt{6})^p$-approximation with at most $k+m$ centers (2) a $(5+2\sqrt{6}+\epsilon)^p$-approximation with $k$ centers in time $n^{2^{O(p)}\cdot m^2}$, and (3) a $(15+6\sqrt{6})^p$ approximation with $k$ centers in time $k^{m}\cdot\text{poly}(n)$. The first result is obtained via a refinement of the iterative rounding method using a sequence of linear programs. The latter two results are obtained by converting a solution with up to $k+m$ centers to one with $k$ centers using sparsification methods for (2) and via an exhaustive search for (3). We also compare the performance of our algorithms with existing bicriteria algorithms as well as exactly $k$ center approximation algorithms on benchmark datasets, and find that our algorithms also outperform existing methods in practice.

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