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Abstract:Randomization is a powerful tool that endows algorithms with remarkable properties. For instance, randomized algorithms excel in adversarial settings, often surpassing the worst-case performance of deterministic algorithms with large margins. Furthermore, their success probability can be amplified by simple strategies such as repetition and majority voting. In this paper, we enhance deep neural networks, in particular transformer models, with randomization. We demonstrate for the first time that randomized algorithms can be instilled in transformers through learning, in a purely data- and objective-driven manner. First, we analyze known adversarial objectives for which randomized algorithms offer a distinct advantage over deterministic ones. We then show that common optimization techniques, such as gradient descent or evolutionary strategies, can effectively learn transformer parameters that make use of the randomness provided to the model. To illustrate the broad applicability of randomization in empowering neural networks, we study three conceptual tasks: associative recall, graph coloring, and agents that explore grid worlds. In addition to demonstrating increased robustness against oblivious adversaries through learned randomization, our experiments reveal remarkable performance improvements due to the inherently random nature of the neural networks' computation and predictions.

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Authors:Seijin Kobayashi, Simon Schug, Yassir Akram, Florian Redhardt, Johannes von Oswald, Razvan Pascanu, Guillaume Lajoie, João Sacramento

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Abstract:Many tasks can be composed from a few independent components. This gives rise to a combinatorial explosion of possible tasks, only some of which might be encountered during training. Under what circumstances can transformers compositionally generalize from a subset of tasks to all possible combinations of tasks that share similar components? Here we study a modular multitask setting that allows us to precisely control compositional structure in the data generation process. We present evidence that transformers learning in-context struggle to generalize compositionally on this task despite being in principle expressive enough to do so. Compositional generalization becomes possible only when introducing a bottleneck that enforces an explicit separation between task inference and task execution.

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Abstract:Transformers can under some circumstances generalize to novel problem instances whose constituent parts might have been encountered during training but whose compositions have not. What mechanisms underlie this ability for compositional generalization? By reformulating multi-head attention as a hypernetwork, we reveal that a low-dimensional latent code specifies key-query specific operations. We find empirically that this latent code is highly structured, capturing information about the subtasks performed by the network. Using the framework of attention as a hypernetwork we further propose a simple modification of multi-head linear attention that strengthens the ability for compositional generalization on a range of abstract reasoning tasks. In particular, we introduce a symbolic version of the Raven Progressive Matrices human intelligence test on which we demonstrate how scaling model size and data enables compositional generalization and gives rise to a functionally structured latent code in the transformer.

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Authors:Simon Schug, Seijin Kobayashi, Yassir Akram, Maciej Wołczyk, Alexandra Proca, Johannes von Oswald, Razvan Pascanu, João Sacramento, Angelika Steger

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Abstract:Many complex tasks and environments can be decomposed into simpler, independent parts. Discovering such underlying compositional structure has the potential to expedite adaptation and enable compositional generalization. Despite progress, our most powerful systems struggle to compose flexibly. While most of these systems are monolithic, modularity promises to allow capturing the compositional nature of many tasks. However, it is unclear under which circumstances modular systems discover this hidden compositional structure. To shed light on this question, we study a teacher-student setting with a modular teacher where we have full control over the composition of ground truth modules. This allows us to relate the problem of compositional generalization to that of identification of the underlying modules. We show theoretically that identification up to linear transformation purely from demonstrations is possible in hypernetworks without having to learn an exponential number of module combinations. While our theory assumes the infinite data limit, in an extensive empirical study we demonstrate how meta-learning from finite data can discover modular solutions that generalize compositionally in modular but not monolithic architectures. We further show that our insights translate outside the teacher-student setting and demonstrate that in tasks with compositional preferences and tasks with compositional goals hypernetworks can discover modular policies that compositionally generalize.

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Authors:Johannes von Oswald, Eyvind Niklasson, Maximilian Schlegel, Seijin Kobayashi, Nicolas Zucchet, Nino Scherrer, Nolan Miller, Mark Sandler, Blaise Agüera y Arcas, Max Vladymyrov(+2 more)

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Abstract:Transformers have become the dominant model in deep learning, but the reason for their superior performance is poorly understood. Here, we hypothesize that the strong performance of Transformers stems from an architectural bias towards mesa-optimization, a learned process running within the forward pass of a model consisting of the following two steps: (i) the construction of an internal learning objective, and (ii) its corresponding solution found through optimization. To test this hypothesis, we reverse-engineer a series of autoregressive Transformers trained on simple sequence modeling tasks, uncovering underlying gradient-based mesa-optimization algorithms driving the generation of predictions. Moreover, we show that the learned forward-pass optimization algorithm can be immediately repurposed to solve supervised few-shot tasks, suggesting that mesa-optimization might underlie the in-context learning capabilities of large language models. Finally, we propose a novel self-attention layer, the mesa-layer, that explicitly and efficiently solves optimization problems specified in context. We find that this layer can lead to improved performance in synthetic and preliminary language modeling experiments, adding weight to our hypothesis that mesa-optimization is an important operation hidden within the weights of trained Transformers.

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Authors:Nicolas Zucchet, Seijin Kobayashi, Yassir Akram, Johannes von Oswald, Maxime Larcher, Angelika Steger, João Sacramento

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Abstract:Recent architectural developments have enabled recurrent neural networks (RNNs) to reach and even surpass the performance of Transformers on certain sequence modeling tasks. These modern RNNs feature a prominent design pattern: linear recurrent layers interconnected by feedforward paths with multiplicative gating. Here, we show how RNNs equipped with these two design elements can exactly implement (linear) self-attention, the main building block of Transformers. By reverse-engineering a set of trained RNNs, we find that gradient descent in practice discovers our construction. In particular, we examine RNNs trained to solve simple in-context learning tasks on which Transformers are known to excel and find that gradient descent instills in our RNNs the same attention-based in-context learning algorithm used by Transformers. Our findings highlight the importance of multiplicative interactions in neural networks and suggest that certain RNNs might be unexpectedly implementing attention under the hood.

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Abstract:To make reinforcement learning more sample efficient, we need better credit assignment methods that measure an action's influence on future rewards. Building upon Hindsight Credit Assignment (HCA), we introduce Counterfactual Contribution Analysis (COCOA), a new family of model-based credit assignment algorithms. Our algorithms achieve precise credit assignment by measuring the contribution of actions upon obtaining subsequent rewards, by quantifying a counterfactual query: "Would the agent still have reached this reward if it had taken another action?". We show that measuring contributions w.r.t. rewarding states, as is done in HCA, results in spurious estimates of contributions, causing HCA to degrade towards the high-variance REINFORCE estimator in many relevant environments. Instead, we measure contributions w.r.t. rewards or learned representations of the rewarding objects, resulting in gradient estimates with lower variance. We run experiments on a suite of problems specifically designed to evaluate long-term credit assignment capabilities. By using dynamic programming, we measure ground-truth policy gradients and show that the improved performance of our new model-based credit assignment methods is due to lower bias and variance compared to HCA and common baselines. Our results demonstrate how modeling action contributions towards rewarding outcomes can be leveraged for credit assignment, opening a new path towards sample-efficient reinforcement learning.

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Abstract:Identifying unfamiliar inputs, also known as out-of-distribution (OOD) detection, is a crucial property of any decision making process. A simple and empirically validated technique is based on deep ensembles where the variance of predictions over different neural networks acts as a substitute for input uncertainty. Nevertheless, a theoretical understanding of the inductive biases leading to the performance of deep ensemble's uncertainty estimation is missing. To improve our description of their behavior, we study deep ensembles with large layer widths operating in simplified linear training regimes, in which the functions trained with gradient descent can be described by the neural tangent kernel. We identify two sources of noise, each inducing a distinct inductive bias in the predictive variance at initialization. We further show theoretically and empirically that both noise sources affect the predictive variance of non-linear deep ensembles in toy models and realistic settings after training. Finally, we propose practical ways to eliminate part of these noise sources leading to significant changes and improved OOD detection in trained deep ensembles.

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Abstract:State-of-the-art meta-learning techniques do not optimize for zero-shot adaptation to unseen tasks, a setting in which humans excel. On the contrary, meta-learning algorithms learn hyperparameters and weight initializations that explicitly optimize for few-shot learning performance. In this work, we take inspiration from recent advances in generative modeling and language-conditioned image synthesis to propose meta-learning techniques that use natural language guidance to achieve higher zero-shot performance compared to the state-of-the-art. We do so by recasting the meta-learning problem as a multi-modal generative modeling problem: given a task, we consider its adapted neural network weights and its natural language description as equivalent multi-modal task representations. We first train an unconditional generative hypernetwork model to produce neural network weights; then we train a second "guidance" model that, given a natural language task description, traverses the hypernetwork latent space to find high-performance task-adapted weights in a zero-shot manner. We explore two alternative approaches for latent space guidance: "HyperCLIP"-based classifier guidance and a conditional Hypernetwork Latent Diffusion Model ("HyperLDM"), which we show to benefit from the classifier-free guidance technique common in image generation. Finally, we demonstrate that our approaches outperform existing meta-learning methods with zero-shot learning experiments on our Meta-VQA dataset, which we specifically constructed to reflect the multi-modal meta-learning setting.

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Authors:Alexander Meulemans, Nicolas Zucchet, Seijin Kobayashi, Johannes von Oswald, João Sacramento

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Abstract:Equilibrium systems are a powerful way to express neural computations. As special cases, they include models of great current interest in both neuroscience and machine learning, such as equilibrium recurrent neural networks, deep equilibrium models, or meta-learning. Here, we present a new principle for learning such systems with a temporally- and spatially-local rule. Our principle casts learning as a least-control problem, where we first introduce an optimal controller to lead the system towards a solution state, and then define learning as reducing the amount of control needed to reach such a state. We show that incorporating learning signals within a dynamics as an optimal control enables transmitting credit assignment information in previously unknown ways, avoids storing intermediate states in memory, and does not rely on infinitesimal learning signals. In practice, our principle leads to strong performance matching that of leading gradient-based learning methods when applied to an array of problems involving recurrent neural networks and meta-learning. Our results shed light on how the brain might learn and offer new ways of approaching a broad class of machine learning problems.

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