Understanding and Controlling Memory in Recurrent Neural Networks

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Doron Haviv, Alexander Rivkind, Omri Barak ;
Proceedings of the 36th International Conference on Machine Learning, PMLR 97:2663-2671, 2019.

Abstract

To be effective in sequential data processing, Recurrent Neural Networks (RNNs) are required to keep track of past events by creating memories. While the relation between memories and the network’s hidden state dynamics was established over the last decade, previous works in this direction were of a predominantly descriptive nature focusing mainly on locating the dynamical objects of interest. In particular, it remained unclear how dynamical observables affect the performance, how they form and whether they can be manipulated. Here, we utilize different training protocols, datasets and architectures to obtain a range of networks solving a delayed classification task with similar performance, alongside substantial differences in their ability to extrapolate for longer delays. We analyze the dynamics of the network’s hidden state, and uncover the reasons for this difference. Each memory is found to be associated with a nearly steady state of the dynamics which we refer to as a ’slow point’. Slow point speeds predict extrapolation performance across all datasets, protocols and architectures tested. Furthermore, by tracking the formation of the slow points we are able to understand the origin of differences between training protocols. Finally, we propose a novel regularization technique that is based on the relation between hidden state speeds and memory longevity. Our technique manipulates these speeds, thereby leading to a dramatic improvement in memory robustness over time, and could pave the way for a new class of regularization methods.

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