Charting and Navigating the Space of Solutions for Recurrent Neural Networks

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 34 (NeurIPS 2021)

Bibtex Paper Reviews And Public Comment » Supplemental


Elia Turner, Kabir V Dabholkar, Omri Barak


In recent years Recurrent Neural Networks (RNNs) were successfully used to model the way neural activity drives task-related behavior in animals, operating under the implicit assumption that the obtained solutions are universal. Observations in both neuroscience and machine learning challenge this assumption. Animals can approach a given task with a variety of strategies, and training machine learning algorithms introduces the phenomenon of underspecification. These observations imply that every task is associated with a space of solutions. To date, the structure of this space is not understood, limiting the approach of comparing RNNs with neural data.Here, we characterize the space of solutions associated with various tasks. We first study a simple two-neuron network on a task that leads to multiple solutions. We trace the nature of the final solution back to the network’s initial connectivity and identify discrete dynamical regimes that underlie this diversity. We then examine three neuroscience-inspired tasks: Delayed discrimination, Interval discrimination, and Time reproduction. For each task, we find a rich set of solutions. One layer of variability can be found directly in the neural activity of the networks. An additional layer is uncovered by testing the trained networks' ability to extrapolate, as a perturbation to a system often reveals hidden structure. Furthermore, we relate extrapolation patterns to specific dynamical objects and effective algorithms found by the networks. We introduce a tool to derive the reduced dynamics of networks by generating a compact directed graph describing the essence of the dynamics with regards to behavioral inputs and outputs. Using this representation, we can partition the solutions to each task into a handful of types and show that neural features can partially predict them.Taken together, our results shed light on the concept of the space of solutions and its uses both in Machine learning and in Neuroscience.