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The geometry of integration in text classification RNNs

Kyle Aitken · Vinay Ramasesh · Ankush Garg · Yuan Cao · David Sussillo · Niru Maheswaranathan


Keywords: [ reverse engineering ] [ document classification ] [ recurrent neural networks ] [ dynamical systems ] [ interpretability ]


Despite the widespread application of recurrent neural networks (RNNs), a unified understanding of how RNNs solve particular tasks remains elusive. In particular, it is unclear what dynamical patterns arise in trained RNNs, and how those pat-terns depend on the training dataset or task. This work addresses these questions in the context of text classification, building on earlier work studying the dynamics of binary sentiment-classification networks (Maheswaranathan et al., 2019). We study text-classification tasks beyond the binary case, exploring the dynamics ofRNNs trained on both natural and synthetic datasets. These dynamics, which we find to be both interpretable and low-dimensional, share a common mechanism across architectures and datasets: specifically, these text-classification networks use low-dimensional attractor manifolds to accumulate evidence for each class as they process the text. The dimensionality and geometry of the attractor manifold are determined by the structure of the training dataset, with the dimensionality reflecting the number of scalar quantities the network remembers in order to classify.In categorical classification, for example, we show that this dimensionality is one less than the number of classes. Correlations in the dataset, such as those induced by ordering, can further reduce the dimensionality of the attractor manifold; we show how to predict this reduction using simple word-count statistics computed on the training dataset. To the degree that integration of evidence towards a decision is a common computational primitive, this work continues to lay the foundation for using dynamical systems techniques to study the inner workings of RNNs.

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