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# Stochastic Gradient Descent-Induced Drift of Representation in a Two-Layer Neural Network

*Proceedings of the 40th International Conference on Machine Learning*, PMLR 202:27401-27419, 2023.

#### Abstract

Representational drift refers to over-time changes in neural activation accompanied by a stable task performance. Despite being observed in the brain and in artificial networks, the mechanisms of drift and its implications are not fully understood. Motivated by recent experimental findings of stimulus-dependent drift in the piriform cortex, we use theory and simulations to study this phenomenon in a two-layer linear feedforward network. Specifically, in a continual online learning scenario, we study the drift induced by the noise inherent in the Stochastic Gradient Descent (SGD). By decomposing the learning dynamics into the normal and tangent spaces of the minimum-loss manifold, we show the former corresponds to a finite variance fluctuation, while the latter could be considered as an effective diffusion process on the manifold. We analytically compute the fluctuation and the diffusion coefficients for the stimuli representations in the hidden layer as functions of network parameters and input distribution. Further, consistent with experiments, we show that the drift rate is slower for a more frequently presented stimulus. Overall, our analysis yields a theoretical framework for better understanding of the drift phenomenon in biological and artificial neural networks.