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Understanding Addition in Transformers

Philip Quirke · Fazl Barez

Halle B #46
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Tue 7 May 7:30 a.m. PDT — 9:30 a.m. PDT


Understanding the inner workings of machine learning models like Transformers is vital for their safe and ethical use. This paper provides a comprehensive analysis of a one-layer Transformer model trained to perform n-digit integer addition. Our findings suggests that the model dissects the task into parallel streams dedicated to individual digits, employing varied algorithms tailored to different positions within the digits. Furthermore, we identify a rare scenario characterized by high loss, which we explain. By thoroughly elucidating the model’s algorithm, we provide new insights into its functioning. These findings are validated through rigorous testing and mathematical modeling, thereby contributing to the broader fields of model understanding and interpretability. Our approach opens the door for analyzing more complex tasks and multi-layer Transformer models.

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