Jesse Hoogland

Executive director at Timaeus. Working on singular learning theory and developmental interpretability.

Website: jessehoogland.com

Twitter: @jesse_hoogland

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If we actually had the precision and maturity of understanding to predict this "volume" question, we'd probably (but not definitely) be able to make fundamental contributions to DL generalization theory + inductive bias research.

Obligatory singular learning theory plug: SLT can and does make predictions about the "volume" question. There will be a post soon by @Daniel Murfet that provides a clear example of this.

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Our work on the induction bump is now out. We find several additional "hidden" transitions, including one that splits the induction bump in two: a first part where previous-token heads start forming, and a second part where the rest of the induction circuit finishes forming.

The first substage is a type-B transition (loss changing only slightly, complexity decreasing). The second substage is a more typical type-A transition (loss decreasing, complexity increasing). We're still unclear about how to understand this type-B transition structurally. How is the model simplifying? E.g., is there some link between attention heads composing and the basin broadening?

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As a historical note / broader context, the worry about model class over-expressivity has been there in the early days of Machine Learning. There was a mistrust of large blackbox models like random forest and SVM and their unusually low test or even cross-validation loss, citing ability of the models to fit noise. Breiman frank commentary back in 2001, "Statistical Modelling: The Two Cultures", touch on this among other worries about ML models. The success of ML has turn this worry into the generalisation puzzle. Zhang et. al. 2017 being a call to arms when DL greatly exacerbated the scale and urgency of this problem.

Yeah it surprises me that Zhang et al. (2018) has had the impact it did when, like you point out, the ideas have been around for so long. Deep learning theorists like Telgarsky point to it as a clear turning point.

Naive optimism: hopefully progress towards a strong resolution to the generalisation puzzle give us understanding enough to gain control on what kind of solutions are learned. And one day we can ask for more than generalisation, like "generalise and be safe".

This I can stand behind.

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I think this mostly has to do with the fact that learning theory grew up in/next to computer science where the focus is usually worst-case performance (esp. in algorithmic complexity theory). This naturally led to the mindset of uniform bounds. That and there's a bit of historical contingency: people started doing it this way, and early approaches have a habit of sticking.

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This is probably true for neural networks in particular, but mathematically speaking, it completely depends on how you parameterise the functions. You can create a parameterisation in which this is not true.

Agreed. So maybe what I'm actually trying to get at it is a statement about what "universality" means in the context of neural networks. Just as the microscopic details of physical theories don't matter much to their macroscopic properties in the vicinity of critical points ("universality" in statistical physics), just as the microscopic details of random matrices don't seem to matter for their bulk and edge statistics ("universality" in random matrix theory), many of the particular choices of neural network architecture doesn't seem to matter for learned representations ("universality" in DL).

What physics and random matrix theory tell us is that a given system's universality class is determined by its symmetries. (This starts to get at why we SLT enthusiasts are so obsessed with neural network symmetries.) In the case of learning machines, those symmetries are fixed by the parameter-function map, so I totally agree that you need to understand the parameter-function map.

However, focusing on symmetries is already a pretty major restriction. If a universality statement like the above holds for neural networks, it would tell us that most of the details of the parameter-function map are irrelevant.

There's another important observation, which is that neural network symmetries leave geometric traces. Even if the RLCT on its own does not "solve" generalization, the SLT-inspired geometric perspective might still hold the answer: it should be possible to distinguish neural networks from the polynomial example you provided by understanding the geometry of the loss landscape. The ambitious statement here might be that all the relevant information you might care about (in terms of understanding universality) are already contained in the loss landscape.

If that's the case, my concern about focusing on the parameter-function map is that it would pose a distraction. It could miss the forest for the trees if you're trying to understand the structure that develops and phenomena like generalization. I expect the more fruitful perspective to remain anchored in geometry.

Is this not satisfied trivially due to the fact that the RLCT has a certain maximum and minimum value within each model class? (If we stick to the assumption that is compact, etc.)

Hmm, maybe restrict so it has to range over .

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The easiest way to explain why this is the case will probably be to provide an example. Suppose we have a Bayesian learning machine with 15 parameters, whose parameter-function map is given by

and whose loss function is the KL divergence. This learning machine will learn 4-degree polynomials.

I'm not sure, but I think this example is pathological. One possible reason for this to be the case is that the symmetries in this model are entirely "generic" or "global." The more interesting kinds of symmetry are "nongeneric" or "local."

What I mean by "global" is that each point in the parameter space has the same set of symmetries (specifically, the product of a bunch of hyperboloids ). In neural networks there are additional symmetries that are only present for a subset of the weights. My favorite example of this is the decision boundary annihilation (see below).

For the sake of simplicity, consider a ReLU network learning a 1D function (which is just piecewise linear approximation). Consider what happens when you you rotate two adjacent pieces so they end up sitting on the same line, thereby "annihilating" the decision boundary between them, so this now-hidden decision boundary no longer contributes to your function. You can move this decision boundary along the composite linear piece without changing the learned function, but this only holds until you reach the next decision boundary over. I.e.: this symmetry is local. (Note that real-world networks actually seem to take advantage of this property.)

This is the more relevant and interesting kind of symmetry, and it's easier to see what this kind of symmetry has to do with functional simplicity: simpler functions have more local degeneracies. We expect this to be true much more generally — that algorithmic primitives like conditional statements, for loops, composition, etc. have clear geometric traces in the loss landscape.

So what we're really interested in is something more like the *relative* RLCT (to the model class's maximum RLCT). This is also the relevant quantity from a dynamical perspective: it's relative loss and complexity that dictate transitions, not absolute loss or complexity.

This gets at another point you raised:

2. It is a type error to describe a function as having low RLCT. A given function may have a high RLCT or a low RLCT, depending on the architecture of the learning machine.

You can make the same critique of Kolmogorov complexity. Kolmogorov complexity is defined relative to some base UTM. Fixing a UTM lets you set an arbitrary constant correction. What's really interesting is the relative Kolmogorov complexity.

In the case of NNs, the model class is akin to your UTM, and, as you show, you can engineer the model class (by setting generic symmetries) to achieve any constant correction to the model complexity. But those constant corrections are not the interesting bit. The interesting bit is the question of relative complexities. I expect that you can make a statement similar to the equivalence-up-to-a-constant of Kolmogorov complexity for RLCTs. Wild conjecture: given two model classes and and some true distribution , their RLCTs obey:

where is some monotonic function.

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I think there's some chance of models executing treacherous turns in response to a particular input, and I'd rather not trigger those if the model hasn't been sufficiently sandboxed.

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One would really want to know if the complexity measure can predict 'emergence' of capabilities like inner-monologue, particularly if you can spot previously-unknown capabilities emerging which may not be covered in any of your existing benchmarks.

That's our hope as well. Early ongoing work on toy transformers trained to perform linear regression seems to bear out that lambdahat can reveal transitions where the loss can't.

But this type of 'emergence' tends to happen with such expensive models that the available checkpoints are too separated to be informative (if you get an emergence going from 1b vs 10b vs 100b, what does it mean to compute a complexity measure there? You'd really want to compare them at wherever the emergence actually really happens, like 73.5b vs 74b, or whatever.)

The kind of emergence we're currently most interested in is emergence over training time, which makes studying these transitions much more tractable (the main cost you're paying is storage for checkpoints, and storage is cheap). It's still a hurdle in that we have to start training large models ourselves (or setting up collaborations with other labs).

But the induction bump happens at pretty small (ie. cheap) model sizes, so it could be replicated many times and in many ways within-training-run and across training-runs, and one see how the complexity metric reflects or predicts the induction bump. Is that one of the 'hidden' transitions you plan to test? And if not, why not?

The induction bump is one of the main things we're looking into now.

Right. SLT tells us how to operationalize and measure (via the LLC) basin volume in general for DL. It tells us about the relation between the LLC and meaningful inductive biases in the particular setting described in this post. I expect future SLT to give us meaningful predictions about inductive biases in DL in particular.