Oral 3 Track 5: Deep Learning and representational learning & Neuroscience and Cognitive Science



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Tue 2 May 1:00 - 1:10 PDT

In-Person Oral presentation / top 25% paper
Sign and Basis Invariant Networks for Spectral Graph Representation Learning

Derek Lim · Joshua Robinson · Lingxiao Zhao · Tess Smidt · Suvrit Sra · Haggai Maron · Stefanie Jegelka

We introduce SignNet and BasisNet---new neural architectures that are invariant to two key symmetries displayed by eigenvectors: (i) sign flips, since if v is an eigenvector then so is -v; and (ii) more general basis symmetries, which occur in higher dimensional eigenspaces with infinitely many choices of basis eigenvectors. We prove that under certain conditions our networks are universal, i.e., they can approximate any continuous function of eigenvectors with the desired invariances. When used with Laplacian eigenvectors, our networks are provably more expressive than existing spectral methods on graphs; for instance, they subsume all spectral graph convolutions, certain spectral graph invariants, and previously proposed graph positional encodings as special cases. Experiments show that our networks significantly outperform existing baselines on molecular graph regression, learning expressive graph representations, and learning neural fields on triangle meshes. Our code is available at

Tue 2 May 1:10 - 1:20 PDT

In-Person Oral presentation / top 25% paper
ACMP: Allen-Cahn Message Passing with Attractive and Repulsive Forces for Graph Neural Networks

Yuelin Wang · Kai Yi · Xinliang Liu · Yuguang Wang · Shi Jin

Neural message passing is a basic feature extraction unit for graph-structured data considering neighboring node features in network propagation from one layer to the next. We model such process by an interacting particle system with attractive and repulsive forces and the Allen-Cahn force arising in the modeling of phase transition. The dynamics of the system is a reaction-diffusion process which can separate particles without blowing up. This induces an Allen-Cahn message passing (ACMP) for graph neural networks where the numerical iteration for the particle system solution constitutes the message passing propagation. ACMP which has a simple implementation with a neural ODE solver can propel the network depth up to one hundred of layers with theoretically proven strictly positive lower bound of the Dirichlet energy. It thus provides a deep model of GNNs circumventing the common GNN problem of oversmoothing. GNNs with ACMP achieve state of the art performance for real-world node classification tasks on both homophilic and heterophilic datasets. Codes are available at

Tue 2 May 1:20 - 1:30 PDT

In-Person Oral presentation / top 5% paper
Emergent World Representations: Exploring a Sequence Model Trained on a Synthetic Task

Kenneth Li · Aspen Hopkins · David Bau · Fernanda Viégas · Hanspeter Pfister · Martin Wattenberg

Language models show a surprising range of capabilities, but the source of their apparent competence is unclear. Do these networks just memorize a collection of surface statistics, or do they rely on internal representations of the process that generates the sequences they see? We investigate this question by applying a variant of the GPT model to the task of predicting legal moves in a simple board game, Othello. Although the network has no a priori knowledge of the game or its rules, we uncover evidence of an emergent nonlinear internal representation of the board state. Interventional experiments indicate this representation can be used to control the output of the network and create "latent saliency maps" that can help explain predictions in human terms.

Tue 2 May 1:30 - 1:40 PDT

In-Person Oral presentation / top 25% paper
QuAnt: Quantum Annealing with Learnt Couplings

Marcel Seelbach Benkner · Maximilian Krahn · Edith Tretschk · Zorah Lähner · Michael Moeller · Vladislav Golyanik

Modern quantum annealers can find high-quality solutions to combinatorial optimisation objectives given as quadratic unconstrained binary optimisation (QUBO) problems. Unfortunately, obtaining suitable QUBO forms in computer vision remains challenging and currently requires problem-specific analytical derivations. Moreover, such explicit formulations impose tangible constraints on solution encodings. In stark contrast to prior work, this paper proposes to learn QUBO forms from data through gradient backpropagation instead of deriving them. As a result, the solution encodings can be chosen flexibly and compactly. Furthermore, our methodology is general and virtually independent of the specifics of the target problem type. We demonstrate the advantages of learnt QUBOs on the diverse problem types of graph matching, 2D point cloud alignment and 3D rotation estimation. Our results are competitive with the previous quantum state of the art while requiring much fewer logical and physical qubits, enabling our method to scale to larger problems. The code and the new dataset are available at

Tue 2 May 1:40 - 1:50 PDT

In-Person Oral presentation / top 25% paper
Unmasking the Lottery Ticket Hypothesis: What's Encoded in a Winning Ticket's Mask?

Mansheej Paul · Feng Chen · Brett Larsen · Jonathan Frankle · Surya Ganguli · Gintare Karolina Dziugaite

Modern deep learning involves training costly, highly overparameterized networks, thus motivating the search for sparser networks that require less compute and memory but can still be trained to the same accuracy as the full network (i.e. matching). Iterative magnitude pruning (IMP) is a state of the art algorithm that can find such highly sparse matching subnetworks, known as winning tickets. IMP operates by iterative cycles of training, masking a fraction of smallest magnitude weights, rewinding unmasked weights back to an early training point, and repeating. Despite its simplicity, the underlying principles for when and how IMP finds winning tickets remain elusive. In particular, what useful information does an IMP mask found at the end of training convey to a rewound network near the beginning of training? How does SGD allow the network to extract this information? And why is iterative pruning needed, i.e. why can't we prune to very high sparsities in one shot? We develop answers to these questions in terms of the geometry of the error landscape. First, we find that—at higher sparsities—pairs of pruned networks at successive pruning iterations are connected by a linear path with zero error barrier if and only if they are matching. This indicates that masks found at the end of training convey to the rewind point the identity of an axial subspace that intersects a desired linearly connected mode of a matching sublevel set. Second, we show SGD can exploit this information due to a strong form of robustness: it can return to this mode despite strong perturbations early in training. Third, we show how the flatness of the error landscape at the end of training determines a limit on the fraction of weights that can be pruned at each iteration of IMP. This analysis yields a new quantitative link between IMP performance and the Hessian eigenspectrum. Finally, we show that the role of retraining in IMP is to find a network with new small weights to prune. Overall, these results make progress toward demystifying the existence of winning tickets by revealing the fundamental role of error landscape geometry in the algorithms used to find them.

Tue 2 May 1:50 - 2:00 PDT

In-Person Oral presentation / top 25% paper
The Asymmetric Maximum Margin Bias of Quasi-Homogeneous Neural Networks

Daniel Kunin · Atsushi Yamamura · Chao Ma · Surya Ganguli

In this work, we explore the maximum-margin bias of quasi-homogeneous neural networks trained with gradient flow on an exponential loss and past a point of separability. We introduce the class of quasi-homogeneous models, which is expressive enough to describe nearly all neural networks with homogeneous activations, even those with biases, residual connections, and normalization layers, while structured enough to enable geometric analysis of its gradient dynamics. Using this analysis, we generalize the existing results of maximum-margin bias for homogeneous networks to this richer class of models. We find that gradient flow implicitly favors a subset of the parameters, unlike in the case of a homogeneous model where all parameters are treated equally. We demonstrate through simple examples how this strong favoritism toward minimizing an asymmetric norm can degrade the robustness of quasi-homogeneous models. On the other hand, we conjecture that this norm-minimization discards, when possible, unnecessary higher-order parameters, reducing the model to a sparser parameterization. Lastly, by applying our theorem to sufficiently expressive neural networks with normalization layers, we reveal a universal mechanism behind the empirical phenomenon of Neural Collapse.

Tue 2 May 2:00 - 2:10 PDT

In-Person Oral presentation / top 5% paper
The Lie Derivative for Measuring Learned Equivariance

Nate Gruver · Marc A Finzi · Micah Goldblum · Andrew Wilson

Equivariance guarantees that a model's predictions capture key symmetries in data. When an image is translated or rotated, an equivariant model's representation of that image will translate or rotate accordingly. The success of convolutional neural networks has historically been tied to translation equivariance directly encoded in their architecture. The rising success of vision transformers, which have no explicit architectural bias towards equivariance, challenges this narrative and suggests that augmentations and training data might also play a significant role in their performance. In order to better understand the role of equivariance in recent vision models, we apply the Lie derivative, a method for measuring equivariance with strong mathematical foundations and minimal hyperparameters. Using the Lie derivative, we study the equivariance properties of hundreds of pretrained models, spanning CNNs, transformers, and Mixer architectures. The scale of our analysis allows us to separate the impact of architecture from other factors like model size or training method. Surprisingly, we find that many violations of equivariance can be linked to spatial aliasing in ubiquitous network layers, such as pointwise non-linearities, and that as models get larger and more accurate they tend to display more equivariance, regardless of architecture. For example, transformers can be more equivariant than convolutional neural networks after training.

Tue 2 May 2:10 - 2:20 PDT

In-Person Oral presentation / top 25% paper
Training language models to summarize narratives improves brain alignment

Khai Loong Aw · Mariya Toneva

Building systems that achieve a deeper understanding of language is one of the central goals of natural language processing (NLP). Towards this goal, recent works have begun to train language models on narrative datasets which require extracting the most critical information by integrating across long contexts. However, it is still an open question whether these models are learning a deeper understanding of the text, or if the models are simply learning a heuristic to complete the task. This work investigates this further by turning to the one language processing system that truly understands complex language: the human brain. We show that training language models for deeper narrative understanding results in richer representations that have improved alignment to human brain activity. We further find that the improvements in brain alignment are larger for character names than for other discourse features, which indicates that these models are learning important narrative elements. Taken together, these results suggest that this type of training can indeed lead to deeper language understanding. These findings have consequences both for cognitive neuroscience by revealing some of the significant factors behind brain-NLP alignment, and for NLP by highlighting that understanding of long-range context can be improved beyond language modeling.