Self-Supervised Learning of Representations for Space Generates Multi-Modular Grid Cells

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 36 (NeurIPS 2023) Main Conference Track

Bibtex Paper Supplemental


Rylan Schaeffer, Mikail Khona, Tzuhsuan Ma, Cristobal Eyzaguirre, Sanmi Koyejo, Ila Fiete


To solve the spatial problems of mapping, localization and navigation, the mammalian lineage has developed striking spatial representations. One important spatial representation is the Nobel-prize winning grid cells: neurons that represent self-location, a local and aperiodic quantity, with seemingly bizarre non-local and spatially periodic activity patterns of a few discrete periods. Why has the mammalian lineage learnt this peculiar grid representation? Mathematical analysis suggests that this multi-periodic representation has excellent properties as an algebraic code with high capacity and intrinsic error-correction, but to date, synthesis of multi-modular grid cells in deep recurrent neural networks remains absent. In this work, we begin by identifying key insights from four families of approaches to answering the grid cell question: dynamical systems, coding theory, function optimization and supervised deep learning. We then leverage our insights to propose a new approach that elegantly combines the strengths of all four approaches. Our approach is a self-supervised learning (SSL) framework - including data, data augmentations, loss functions and a network architecture - motivated from a normative perspective, with no access to supervised position information. Without making assumptions about internal or readout representations, we show that multiple grid cell modules can emerge in networks trained on our SSL framework and that the networks generalize significantly beyond their training distribution. This work contains insights for neuroscientists interested in the origins of grid cells as well as machine learning researchers interested in novel SSL frameworks.