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Behnam Neyshabur

Behnam Neyshabur

I am a senior staff research scientist at Google. Before that, I was a postdoctoral researcher at New York University and a member of Theoretical Machine Learning program at Institute for Advanced Study (IAS) in Princeton. In summer 2017, I received a PhD in computer science at TTI-Chicago where I was fortunate to be advised by Nati Srebro. My current primary interest is reasoning and algorithmic capabilities of large language models but I have also not lost my interest in science of deep learning and (out-of-distribution) generalization.
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    Preview abstract The remarkable progress in deep learning in recent years is largely driven by improvements in scale, where bigger models are trained on larger datasets for longer schedules. To predict the benefit of scale empirically, we argue for a more rigorous methodology based on the extrapolation loss, instead of reporting the best-fitting (interpolating) parameters. We then present a recipe for estimating scaling law parameters reliably from learning curves. We demonstrate that it extrapolates more accurately than previous methods in a wide range of architecture families across several domains, including image classification, neural machine translation (NMT) and language modeling, in addition to tasks from the BIG-Bench evaluation benchmark. Finally, we release a benchmark dataset comprising of 90 evaluation tasks to facilitate research in this domain. View details
    Preview abstract Distribution shift is a prevalent problem in the real-world deployment of machine learning models. Typically a mismatch between the source (training) and target (test) distribution leads to a gap between the source and target performance of the model. In this work, we investigate methods that leverage only unlabeled target data to predict accuracy under distribution shift. We propose a simple and effective method called Average Thresholded Confidence (ATC) that learns a scalar \emph{threshold} on model confidence on source data and predicts model performance as the average number of unlabeled target examples above the identified threshold. ATC outperforms previous approaches across several model architectures and various types of distribution shifts (e.g. synthetic corruptions, shifts due to dataset reproduction, or shifts due to novel subpopulations) applied to FMoW-\textsc{wilds}, ImageNet, CIFAR, and MNIST datasets. ATC estimates target performance up to $2\text{--}3\times$ more accurately compared to recently proposed methods. Finally, we theoretically analyze our proposed method on a toy distribution shift model with varying degrees of spurious correlation. View details
    Preview abstract Understanding the loss landscape of deep neural networks has been the subject of many studies due to its close connections to optimization and generalization. Prior work has shown that there is often a performance barrier along the linear interpolation of the weights of two models trained with different initial seeds. In this work, we first empirically investigate how different model parameters and data distributions impact such performance barriers. Next, we consider the invariances in the function space of neural networks that arise from permutation of hidden units. We investigate this through extensive experiments and provide several pieces of evidence that if these invariances are taken into account, many of the barriers vanish. View details
    Preview abstract State space models have shown to be effective for modeling long range dependencies, specifically on sequence classification tasks. In this paper we focus on autoregressive sequence modeling over natural language, Github code and ArXiv mathematics articles. Based on a few recent developments around effectiveness of gated activation functions, we propose a new layer, named Gated State Space (GSS) layer. We show that GSS trains significantly faster than the diagonal version of S4 (i.e. DSS) on TPUs, is simple to implement and fairly competitive with several well-tuned Transformer-based baselines. Finally, we show that interleaving traditional Transformer blocks with GSS improves performance even further. View details
    Preview abstract We introduce the Block-Recurrent Transformer, which applies a transformer layer in a recurrent fashion along a sequence, and has linear complexity with respect to sequence length. Our recurrent cell operates on blocks of tokens rather than single tokens, and leverages parallel computation within a block in order to make efficient use of accelerator hardware. The cell itself is strikingly simple. It is merely a transformer layer: it uses self-attention and cross-attention to efficiently compute a recurrent function over a large set of state vectors and tokens. Our design was inspired in part by LSTM cells, and it uses LSTM-style gates, but it scales the typical LSTM cell up by several orders of magnitude. Our implementation of recurrence has the same cost in both computation time and parameter count as a conventional transformer layer, but offers dramatically improved perplexity in language modeling tasks over very long sequences. Our model out-performs a long-range Transformer XL baseline by a wide margin, while running twice as fast. We demonstrate its effectiveness on PG19 (books), arXiv papers, and GitHub source code. View details
    Preview abstract Recent developments in large-scale machine learning have created a tempting picture suggesting that by scaling up data, model size and training time properly, one can obtain a model that can be used successfully in few-shot settings in all downstream tasks. In this work, we investigate this premise empirically and provide a strong case against it. In particular, we consider image recognition task with large scale models (Vision Transformers) trained on the largest scale of available data (JFT). We show that as we improve the performance of upstream task either by scaling up or hyper-parameter and architectural choices, the performance of many downstream tasks eventually plateau. We showcase an even more extreme scenario where performance on upstream and downstream contradict each other, i.e., in order to have a better downstream performance, we need to hurt upstream accuracy. We delve deeper into understanding the reasons that give rise to these phenomena by designing interventions and investigating different components of the models which gives us crude yet useful insights into the mechanisms behind these observations. View details
    Preview abstract In this work, we study the evolution of the loss Hessian across many classification tasks in order to understand the effect the curvature of the loss has on the training dynamics. Whereas prior work has focused on how different learning rates affect the loss Hessian observed during training, we also analyze the effects of model initialization, architectural choices, and common training heuristics such as gradient clipping and learning rate warmup. Our results demonstrate that successful model and hyperparameter choices allow the early optimization trajectory to either avoid---or navigate out of---regions of high curvature and into flatter regions that tolerate a higher learning rate. Our results suggest a unifying perspective on how disparate mitigation strategies for training instability ultimately address the same underlying failure mode of neural network optimization, namely poor conditioning. Inspired by the conditioning perspective, we show that learning rate warmup can improve training stability just as much as batch normalization, layer normalization, MetaInit, GradInit, and Fixup initialization. View details
    Solving Quantitative Reasoning Problems with Language Models
    Aitor Lewkowycz
    David Martin Dohan
    Henryk Michalewski
    Cem Anil
    Imanol Schlag
    Theo Gutman-Solo
    Yuhuai Wu
    Guy Gur-Ari
    NeurIPS (2022)
    Preview abstract Language models have achieved remarkable performance on a wide range of tasks that require natural language understanding. Nevertheless, state-of-the-art models have generally struggled with tasks that require quantitative reasoning, such as solving mathematics, science, and engineering problems at the college level. To help close this gap, we introduce Minerva, a large language model pretrained on general natural language data and further trained on technical content. The model achieves state-of-the-art performance on technical benchmarks without the use of external tools. We also evaluate our model on over two hundred undergraduate-level problems in physics, biology, chemistry, economics, and other sciences that require quantitative reasoning, and find that the model can correctly answer nearly a third of them. View details
    Preview abstract The ability to extrapolate from short problem instances to longer ones is an important form of out-of-distribution generalization in reasoning tasks, and is crucial when learning from datasets where longer problem instances are rare. These include theorem proving, solving quantitative mathematics problems, and reading/summarizing novels. In this paper, we run careful empirical studies exploring the length generalization capabilities of transformer-based language models. We first establish that naively finetuning transformers on length generalization tasks shows significant generalization deficiencies independent of model scale. We then show that combining pretrained large language models' in-context learning abilities with scratchpad prompting (asking the model to output solution steps before producing an answer) results in a dramatic improvement in length generalization. We run careful failure analyses on each of the learning modalities and identify common sources of mistakes that highlight opportunities in equipping language models with the ability to generalize to longer problems. View details
    Avoiding Spurious Correlations: Bridging Theory and Practice
    Thao Nguyen
    Vaishnavh Nagarajan
    NeurIPS 2021 Workshop on Distribution Shifts: Connecting Methods and Applications
    Preview abstract Distribution shifts in the wild jeopardize the performance of machine learning models as they tend to pick up spurious correlations during training. Recent work \cite{nagarajan2020understanding} has characterized two specific failure modes of out-of-distribution (OOD) generalization, and we extend this theoretical framework by interpreting existing algorithms as solutions to these failure modes. We then evaluate them on different image classification datasets, and in the process surface two issues that are central to existing robustness techniques. For those that rely on group annotations, we show how the group information in standard benchmark datasets is unable to fully capture the spurious correlations present. For those that don't require group annotations, the validation set utilized for model selection still carries assumptions that are not realistic in real-world settings, and we show how this choice of shifts in validation set could impact performance of different OOD algorithms. View details
    Preview abstract In today's heavily overparameterized models, the value of the training loss provides few guarantees on model generalization ability. Indeed, optimizing only the training loss value, as is commonly done, can easily lead to suboptimal model quality. Motivated by prior work connecting the geometry of the loss landscape and generalization, we introduce a novel, effective procedure for instead simultaneously minimizing loss value and loss sharpness. In particular, our procedure, Sharpness-Aware Minimization (SAM), seeks parameters that lie in neighborhoods having uniformly low loss; this formulation results in a min-max optimization problem on which gradient descent can be performed efficiently. We present empirical results showing that SAM improves model generalization across a variety of benchmark datasets (e.g., CIFAR-10, CIFAR-100, ImageNet, finetuning tasks) and models, yielding novel state-of-the-art performance for several. Additionally, we find that SAM natively provides robustness to label noise on par with that provided by state-of-the-art procedures that specifically target learning with noisy labels. We open source our code at https://github.com/google-research/sam. View details
    Methods and Analysis of The First Competition in Predicting Generalization of Deep Learning
    Yiding Jiang
    Parth Natekar
    Manik Sharma
    Sumukh K. Aithal
    Dhruva Kashyap
    Natarajan Subramanyam
    Carlos Lassance
    Daniel M. Roy
    Gintare Karolina Dziugaite
    Suriya Gunasekar
    Isabelle Guyon
    Pierre Foret
    Scott Yak i
    Samy Bengio
    Proceedings of the NeurIPS 2020 Competition and Demonstration Track, PMLR (2021)
    Preview abstract Deep learning has been recently successfully applied to an ever larger number of problems, ranging from pattern recognition to complex decision making. However, several concerns have been raised, including guarantees of good generalization, which is of foremost importance. Despite numerous attempts, conventional statistical learning approaches fall short of providing a satisfactory explanation on why deep learning works. In a competition hosted at the Thirty-Fourth Conference on Neural Information Processing Systems (NeurIPS 2020), we invited the community to design robust and general complexity measures that can accurately predict the generalization of models. In this paper, we describe the competition design, the protocols, and the solutions of the top-three teams at the competition in details. In addition, we discuss the outcomes, common failure modes, and potential future directions for the competition. View details
    Preview abstract We propose a new framework for reasoning about generalization in deep learning. The core idea is to couple the Real World, where optimizers take stochastic gradient steps on the empirical loss, to an Ideal World, where optimizers take steps on the population loss. This leads to an alternate decomposition of test error into: (1) the Ideal World test error plus (2) the gap between the two worlds. If the gap (2) is universally small, this reduces the problem of generalization in offline learning to the problem of optimization in online learning. We then give empirical evidence that this gap between worlds can be small in realistic deep learning settings, in particular supervised image classification. For example, CNNs generalize better than MLPs on image distributions in the Real World, but this is "because" they optimize faster on the population loss in the Ideal World. This suggests our framework is a useful tool for understanding generalization in deep learning, and lays a foundation for future research in the area. View details
    Preview abstract Inspired by human learning, researchers have proposed ordering examples during training based on their difficulty. Both curriculum learning, exposing a network to easier examples early in training, and anti-curriculum learning, showing the most difficult examples first, have been suggested as improvements to the standard i.i.d. training. In this work, we set out to investigate the relative benefits of ordered learning. We first investigate the implicit curricula resulting from architectural and optimization bias and find that samples are learned in a highly consistent order. Next, to quantify the benefit of explicit curricula, we conduct extensive experiments over thousands of orderings spanning three kinds of learning: curriculum, anti-curriculum, and random-curriculum -- in which the size of the training dataset is dynamically increased over time, but the examples are randomly ordered. We find that for standard benchmark datasets, curricula have only marginal benefits, and that randomly ordered samples perform as well or better than curricula and anti-curricula, suggesting that any benefit is entirely due to the dynamic training set size. Inspired by common use cases of curriculum learning in practice, we investigate the role of limited training time budget and noisy data in the success of curriculum learning. Our experiments demonstrate that curriculum, but not anti-curriculum can indeed improve the performance either with limited training time budget or in existence of noisy data. View details
    Preview abstract Empirical studies suggest that machine learning models often rely on features, such as the background, that may be spuriously correlated with the label only during training time, resulting in poor accuracy during test-time. In this work, we identify the fundamental factors that give rise to this behavior, by explaining why models fail this way even in easy-to-learn tasks where one would expect these models to succeed. In particular, through a theoretical study of gradient-descent-trained linear classifiers on some easy-to-learn tasks, we uncover two complementary failure modes. These modes arise from how spurious correlations induce two kinds of skews in the data: one geometric in nature, and another, statistical in nature. Finally, we construct natural modifications of image classification datasets to understand when these failure modes can arise in practice. We also design experiments to isolate the two failure modes when training modern neural networks on these datasets. View details
    Deep Learning Through the Lens of Example Difficulty
    Robert John Nicholas Baldock
    Hartmut Maennel
    NeurIPS (2021)
    Preview abstract Existing work on understanding deep learning often employs measures that compress all data-dependent information into a few numbers. In this work, we argue that a perspective based on the role of individual data-points could be beneficial in understanding multiple aspects of deep learning. We introduce the concept of the layer at which a data point is learned in a deep neural network by building upon k-nearest neighbor probes in the hidden representations of the network. Our investigation reveals the relationship between layer learned and other known notions of example difficulty such as iteration learned and consistency score. Our study further leads to connecting separately reported phenomena in the literature: early layers generalize while later layers memorize; networks converge from input layer towards output layer; and networks learn simple patterns first. View details
    Preview abstract Empirical studies demonstrate that the performance of neural networks improves with increasing number of parameters. In most of these studies, the number of parameters is increased by increasing the network width. This begs the question: Is the observed improvement due to the larger number of parameters, or is it due to the larger width itself? We compare different ways of increasing model width while keeping the number of parameters constant. We show that for models initialized with a random, static sparsity pattern in the weight tensors, network width is the determining factor for good performance, while the number of weights is secondary, as long as trainability is ensured. As a step towards understanding this effect, we analyze these models in the framework of Gaussian Process kernels. We find that the distance between the sparse finite-width model kernel and the infinite-width kernel at initialization is indicative of model performance. View details
    Preview abstract We construct an experimental setup in which changing the scale of initialization strongly impacts the implicit regularization induced by SGD, interpolating from good generalization performance to completely memorizing the training set while making little progress on the test set. Moreover, we find that the extent and manner in which generalization ability is affected depends on the activation and loss function used, with sin activation demonstrating extreme memorization. In the case of the homogeneous ReLU activation, we show that this behavior can be attributed to the loss function. Our empirical investigation reveals that increasing the scale of initialization correlates with misalignment of representations and gradients across examples in the same class. This insight allows us to devise an alignment measure over gradients and representations which can capture this phenomenon. We demonstrate that our alignment measure correlates with generalization of deep models trained on image classification tasks. View details
    Preview abstract Although machine learning models typically experience a drop in performance on out-of-distribution data, accuracies on in- versus out-of-distribution data are widely observed to follow a single linear trend when evaluated across a testbed of models. Models that are more accurate on the out-of-distribution data relative to this baseline exhibit “effective robustness” and are exceedingly rare. Identifying such models, and understanding their properties, is key to improving out-of-distribution performance. We conduct a thorough empirical investigation of effective robustness during fine-tuning and surprisingly find that models pre-trained on larger datasets exhibit effective robustness during training that vanishes at convergence. We study how properties of the data influence effective robustness, and we show that it increases with the larger size, more diversity, and higher example difficulty of the dataset. We also find that models that display effective robustness are able to correctly classify 10% of the examples that no other current testbed model gets correct. Finally, we discuss several strategies for scaling effective robustness to the high-accuracy regime to improve the out-of-distribution accuracy of state-of-the-art models. View details
    Preview abstract One desired capability for machines is the ability to transfer their understanding of one domain to another domain where data is (usually) scarce. Despite ample adaptation of transfer learning in many deep learning applications, we yet do not understand what enables a successful transfer and which part of the network is responsible for that. In this paper, we provide new tools and analysis to address these fundamental questions. We separate the effect of feature reuse from learning high-level statistics of data and show that some benefit of transfer learning comes from the latter. View details
    Preview abstract A major component of overfitting in model-free reinforcement learning (RL) involves the case where the agent may mistakenly correlate reward with certain spurious features from the observations generated by the Markov Decision Process (MDP). We provide a general framework for analyzing this scenario, which we use to design multiple synthetic benchmarks from only modifying the observation space of an MDP. When an agent overfits to different observation spaces even if the underlying MDP dynamics is fixed, we term this observational overfitting. Our experiments expose intriguing properties especially with regards to implicit regularization, and also corroborate results from previous works in RL generalization and supervised learning (SL). View details
    Preview abstract Generalization of deep networks has been of great interest in recent years, resulting in a number of theoretically and empirically motivated complexity measures. However, most papers proposing such measures study only a small set of models, leaving open the question of whether the conclusion drawn from those experiments would remain valid in other settings. We present the first large scale study of generalization in deep networks. We investigate more then 40 complexity measures taken from both theoretical bounds and empirical studies. We train over 10,000 convolutional networks by systematically varying commonly used hyperparameters. Hoping to uncover potentially causal relationships between each measure and generalization, we analyze carefully controlled experiments and show surprising failures of some measures as well as promising measures for further research. View details
    Preview abstract We study the phenomenon that some modules of deep neural networks (DNNs) are more critical than others. Meaning that rewinding their parameter values back to initialization, while keeping other modules fixed at the trained parameters, results in a large drop in the network's performance. Our analysis reveals interesting properties of the loss landscape which leads us to propose a complexity measure, called module criticality, based on the shape of the valleys that connects the initial and final values of the module parameters. We formulate how generalization relates to the module criticality, and show that this measure is able to explain the superior generalization performance of some architectures over others, whereas earlier measures fail to do so. View details
    NeurIPS 2020 Competition: Predicting Generalization in Deep Learning
    Yiding Jiang
    Pierre Foret
    Scott Yak
    Daniel M. Roy
    Gintare Karolina Dziugaite
    Samy Bengio
    Suriya Gunasekar
    Isabelle Guyon
    arXiv (2020)
    Preview abstract Understanding generalization in deep learning is arguably one of the most important questions in deep learning. Deep learning has been successfully adopted to a large number of problems ranging from pattern recognition to complex decision making, but many recent researchers have raised many concerns about deep learning, among which the most important is generalization. Despite numerous attempts, conventional statistical learning approaches have yet been able to provide a satisfactory explanation on why deep learning works. A recent line of works aims to address the problem by trying to predict the generalization performance through complexity measures. In this competition, we invite the community to propose complexity measures that can accurately predict generalization of models. A robust and general complexity measure would potentially lead to a better understanding of deep learning's underlying mechanism and behavior of deep models on unseen data, or shed light on better generalization bounds. All these outcomes will be important for making deep learning more robust and reliable. View details
    Preview abstract Convolution is one of the most essential components of architectures used in computer vision. As machine learning moves towards reducing the expert bias and learning it from data, a natural next step seems to be learning convolution-like structures from scratch. This, however, has proven elusive. For example, current state-of-the-art architecture search algorithms use convolution as one of the existing modules rather than learning it from data. In an attempt to understand the inductive bias that gives rise to convolutions, we investigate minimum description length as a guiding principle and show that in some settings, it can indeed be indicative of the performance of architectures. To find architectures with small description length, we propose β-LASSO, a simple variant of LASSO algorithm that, when applied on fully-connected networks for image classification tasks, learns architectures with local connections and achieves state-of-the-art accuracies for training fully-connected nets on CIFAR-10 (85.19%), CIFAR-100 (59.56%) and SVHN (94.07%) bridging the gap between fully-connected and convolutional nets. View details
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