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Abstract:Large Language Models (LLMs) have the capacity to store and recall facts. Through experimentation with open-source models, we observe that this ability to retrieve facts can be easily manipulated by changing contexts, even without altering their factual meanings. These findings highlight that LLMs might behave like an associative memory model where certain tokens in the contexts serve as clues to retrieving facts. We mathematically explore this property by studying how transformers, the building blocks of LLMs, can complete such memory tasks. We study a simple latent concept association problem with a one-layer transformer and we show theoretically and empirically that the transformer gathers information using self-attention and uses the value matrix for associative memory.

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Abstract:Understanding how semantic meaning is encoded in the representation spaces of large language models is a fundamental problem in interpretability. In this paper, we study the two foundational questions in this area. First, how are categorical concepts, such as {'mammal', 'bird', 'reptile', 'fish'}, represented? Second, how are hierarchical relations between concepts encoded? For example, how is the fact that 'dog' is a kind of 'mammal' encoded? We show how to extend the linear representation hypothesis to answer these questions. We find a remarkably simple structure: simple categorical concepts are represented as simplices, hierarchically related concepts are orthogonal in a sense we make precise, and (in consequence) complex concepts are represented as polytopes constructed from direct sums of simplices, reflecting the hierarchical structure. We validate these theoretical results on the Gemma large language model, estimating representations for 957 hierarchically related concepts using data from WordNet.

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Abstract:Recent works have argued that high-level semantic concepts are encoded "linearly" in the representation space of large language models. In this work, we study the origins of such linear representations. To that end, we introduce a simple latent variable model to abstract and formalize the concept dynamics of the next token prediction. We use this formalism to show that the next token prediction objective (softmax with cross-entropy) and the implicit bias of gradient descent together promote the linear representation of concepts. Experiments show that linear representations emerge when learning from data matching the latent variable model, confirming that this simple structure already suffices to yield linear representations. We additionally confirm some predictions of the theory using the LLaMA-2 large language model, giving evidence that the simplified model yields generalizable insights.

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Abstract:Active Learning (AL) has gained prominence in integrating data-intensive machine learning (ML) models into domains with limited labeled data. However, its effectiveness diminishes significantly when the labeling budget is low. In this paper, we first empirically observe the performance degradation of existing AL algorithms in the low-budget settings, and then introduce Direct Acquisition Optimization (DAO), a novel AL algorithm that optimizes sample selections based on expected true loss reduction. Specifically, DAO utilizes influence functions to update model parameters and incorporates an additional acquisition strategy to mitigate bias in loss estimation. This approach facilitates a more accurate estimation of the overall error reduction, without extensive computations or reliance on labeled data. Experiments demonstrate DAO's effectiveness in low budget settings, outperforming state-of-the-arts approaches across seven benchmarks.

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Abstract:Machine learning tools often rely on embedding text as vectors of real numbers. In this paper, we study how the semantic structure of language is encoded in the algebraic structure of such embeddings. Specifically, we look at a notion of ``semantic independence'' capturing the idea that, e.g., ``eggplant'' and ``tomato'' are independent given ``vegetable''. Although such examples are intuitive, it is difficult to formalize such a notion of semantic independence. The key observation here is that any sensible formalization should obey a set of so-called independence axioms, and thus any algebraic encoding of this structure should also obey these axioms. This leads us naturally to use partial orthogonality as the relevant algebraic structure. We develop theory and methods that allow us to demonstrate that partial orthogonality does indeed capture semantic independence. Complementary to this, we also introduce the concept of independence preserving embeddings where embeddings preserve the conditional independence structures of a distribution, and we prove the existence of such embeddings and approximations to them.

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Abstract:The increasing capabilities of large language models (LLMs) raise opportunities for artificial general intelligence but concurrently amplify safety concerns, such as potential misuse of AI systems, necessitating effective AI alignment. Reinforcement Learning from Human Feedback (RLHF) has emerged as a promising pathway towards AI alignment but brings forth challenges due to its complexity and dependence on a separate reward model. Direct Preference Optimization (DPO) has been proposed as an alternative, and it remains equivalent to RLHF under the reverse KL regularization constraint. This paper presents $f$-DPO, a generalized approach to DPO by incorporating diverse divergence constraints. We show that under certain $f$-divergences, including Jensen-Shannon divergence, forward KL divergences and $\alpha$-divergences, the complex relationship between the reward and optimal policy can also be simplified by addressing the Karush-Kuhn-Tucker conditions. This eliminates the need for estimating the normalizing constant in the Bradley-Terry model and enables a tractable mapping between the reward function and the optimal policy. Our approach optimizes LLMs to align with human preferences in a more efficient and supervised manner under a broad set of divergence constraints. Empirically, adopting these divergences ensures a balance between alignment performance and generation diversity. Importantly, $f$-DPO outperforms PPO-based methods in divergence efficiency, and divergence constraints directly influence expected calibration error (ECE).

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Abstract:We establish conditions under which latent causal graphs are nonparametrically identifiable and can be reconstructed from unknown interventions in the latent space. Our primary focus is the identification of the latent structure in a measurement model, i.e. causal graphical models where dependence between observed variables is insignificant compared to dependence between latent representations, without making parametric assumptions such as linearity or Gaussianity. Moreover, we do not assume the number of hidden variables is known, and we show that at most one unknown intervention per hidden variable is needed. This extends a recent line of work on learning causal representations from observations and interventions. The proofs are constructive and introduce two new graphical concepts -- imaginary subsets and isolated edges -- that may be useful in their own right. As a matter of independent interest, the proofs also involve a novel characterization of the limits of edge orientations within the equivalence class of DAGs induced by unknown interventions. Experiments confirm that the latent graph can be recovered from data using our theoretical results. These are the first results to characterize the conditions under which causal representations are identifiable without making any parametric assumptions in a general setting with unknown interventions and without faithfulness.

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Abstract:Real-world classification problems must contend with domain shift, the (potential) mismatch between the domain where a model is deployed and the domain(s) where the training data was gathered. Methods to handle such problems must specify what structure is common between the domains and what varies. A natural assumption is that causal (structural) relationships are invariant in all domains. Then, it is tempting to learn a predictor for label $Y$ that depends only on its causal parents. However, many real-world problems are "anti-causal" in the sense that $Y$ is a cause of the covariates $X$ -- in this case, $Y$ has no causal parents and the naive causal invariance is useless. In this paper, we study representation learning under a particular notion of domain shift that both respects causal invariance and that naturally handles the "anti-causal" structure. We show how to leverage the shared causal structure of the domains to learn a representation that both admits an invariant predictor and that also allows fast adaptation in new domains. The key is to translate causal assumptions into learning principles that disentangle "invariant" and "non-stable" features. Experiments on both synthetic and real-world data demonstrate the effectiveness of the proposed learning algorithm. Code is available at https://github.com/ybjiaang/ACTIR.

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Abstract:We present an open-source untethered quadrupedal soft robot platform for dynamic locomotion (e.g., high-speed running and backflipping). The robot is mostly soft (80 vol.%) while driven by four geared servo motors. The robot's soft body and soft legs were 3D printed with gyroid infill using a flexible material, enabling it to conform to the environment and passively stabilize during locomotion on multi-terrain environments. In addition, we simulated the robot in a real-time soft body simulation. With tuned gaits in simulation, the real robot can locomote at a speed of 0.9 m/s (2.5 body length/second), substantially faster than most untethered legged soft robots published to date. We hope this platform, along with its verified simulator, can catalyze the development of soft robotics.

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Abstract:Recent work showed that overparameterized autoencoders can be trained to implement associative memory via iterative maps, when the trained input-output Jacobian of the network has all of its eigenvalue norms strictly below one. Here, we theoretically analyze this phenomenon for sigmoid networks by leveraging recent developments in deep learning theory, especially the correspondence between training neural networks in the infinite-width limit and performing kernel regression with the Neural Tangent Kernel (NTK). We find that overparameterized sigmoid autoencoders can have attractors in the NTK limit for both training with a single example and multiple examples under certain conditions. In particular, for multiple training examples, we find that the norm of the largest Jacobian eigenvalue drops below one with increasing input norm, leading to associative memory.

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