We present a single attention head in GPT-2 Small that has one main role across the entire training distribution. If components in earlier layers predict a certain token, and this token appears earlier in the context, the head suppresses it: we call this copy suppression. Attention Head 10.7 (L10H7) suppresses naive copying behavior which improves overall model calibration. This explains why multiple prior works studying certain narrow tasks found negative heads that systematically favored the wrong answer. We uncover the mechanism that the Negative Heads use for copy suppression with weights-based evidence and are able to explain 76.9% of the impact of L10H7 in GPT-2 Small. To the best of our knowledge, this is the most comprehensive description of the complete role of a component in a language model to date. One major effect of copy suppression is its role in self-repair. Self-repair refers to how ablating crucial model components results in downstream neural network parts compensating for this ablation. Copy suppression leads to self-repair: if an initial overconfident copier is ablated, then there is nothing to suppress. We show that self-repair is implemented by several mechanisms, one of which is copy suppression, which explains 39% of the behavior in a narrow task. Interactive visualisations of the copy suppression phenomena may be seen at our web app https://copy-suppression.streamlit.app/
We investigate the internal structure of language model computations using causal analysis and demonstrate two motifs: (1) a form of adaptive computation where ablations of one attention layer of a language model cause another layer to compensate (which we term the Hydra effect) and (2) a counterbalancing function of late MLP layers that act to downregulate the maximum-likelihood token. Our ablation studies demonstrate that language model layers are typically relatively loosely coupled (ablations to one layer only affect a small number of downstream layers). Surprisingly, these effects occur even in language models trained without any form of dropout. We analyse these effects in the context of factual recall and consider their implications for circuit-level attribution in language models.
Interpretability research aims to build tools for understanding machine learning (ML) models. However, such tools are inherently hard to evaluate because we do not have ground truth information about how ML models actually work. In this work, we propose to build transformer models manually as a testbed for interpretability research. We introduce Tracr, a "compiler" for translating human-readable programs into weights of a transformer model. Tracr takes code written in RASP, a domain-specific language (Weiss et al. 2021), and translates it into weights for a standard, decoder-only, GPT-like transformer architecture. We use Tracr to create a range of ground truth transformers that implement programs including computing token frequencies, sorting, and Dyck-n parenthesis checking, among others. To enable the broader research community to explore and use compiled models, we provide an open-source implementation of Tracr at https://github.com/deepmind/tracr.
What is learned by sophisticated neural network agents such as AlphaZero? This question is of both scientific and practical interest. If the representations of strong neural networks bear no resemblance to human concepts, our ability to understand faithful explanations of their decisions will be restricted, ultimately limiting what we can achieve with neural network interpretability. In this work we provide evidence that human knowledge is acquired by the AlphaZero neural network as it trains on the game of chess. By probing for a broad range of human chess concepts we show when and where these concepts are represented in the AlphaZero network. We also provide a behavioural analysis focusing on opening play, including qualitative analysis from chess Grandmaster Vladimir Kramnik. Finally, we carry out a preliminary investigation looking at the low-level details of AlphaZero's representations, and make the resulting behavioural and representational analyses available online.