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Vinay Venkatesh Ramasesh

Vinay Venkatesh Ramasesh

I am a research scientist working to better understand the capabilities of modern deep learning models, recently focusing on language models. I received my PhD in experimental physics from the University of California at Berkeley in 2019, where I studied superconducting quantum circuits as a potential substrate for quantum computation.
Authored Publications
Google Publications
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    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 Language models demonstrate both quantitative improvement and new qualitative capabilities with increasing scale. Despite their potentially transformative impact, these new capabilities are as yet poorly characterized. In order to direct future research, prepare for disruptive new model capabilities, and ameliorate socially harmful effects, it is vital that we understand the present and near-future capabilities and limitations of language models. To address this challenge, we introduce the Beyond the Imitation Game benchmark (BIG-bench). BIG-bench consists of 207 tasks, contributed by over 400 authors across 132 institutions. Task topics are diverse, drawing problems from linguistics, childhood development, math, common sense reasoning, biology, physics, social bias, software development, and beyond. BIG-bench focuses on capabilities that are believed to be beyond current language models. We evaluate the behavior of OpenAI's GPT models, Google-internal dense transformer architectures, and Switch-style sparse transformers on BIG-bench, across model sizes spanning millions to hundreds of billions of parameters. A team of human experts further performed all tasks, to provide a strong baseline. Findings include: model performance and calibration both improve with scale, but are poor in absolute terms (and when compared with human performance); model performance is remarkably similar across model classes; tasks that improve gradually and predictably commonly involve a large knowledge or memorization component, whereas tasks that exhibit ``breakthrough'' behavior at a critical scale often involve a significant reasoning or algorithmic component; social bias typically increases with scale in settings with ambiguous context, but this can be improved with prompting. View details
    Preview abstract Catastrophic forgetting presents a challenge in developing deep learning models capable of continual learning, i.e. learning tasks sequentially. Recently, both computer vision and natural-language processing have witnessed great progress through the use of large-scale pretrained models. In this work, we present an empirical study of catastrophic forgetting in this pretraining paradigm. Our experiments indicate that large, pretrained ResNets and Transformers are significantly more resistant to forgetting than randomly-initialized, trained-from-scratch models; this robustness systematically improves with scale of both model and pretraining dataset size. We take initial steps towards characterizing what aspect of model representations allows them to perform continual learning so well, finding that in the pretrained models, distinct class representations grow more orthogonal with scale. Our results suggest that, when possible, scale and a diverse pretraining dataset can be useful ingredients in mitigating catastrophic forgetting. 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
    Preview abstract Encoder-decoder networks with attention have proven to be a powerful way to solve many sequence-to-sequence tasks. In these networks, attention aligns encoder and decoder states and is often used for visualizing network behavior. However, the mechanisms used by networks to generate appropriate attention matrices are still mysterious. Moreover, how these mechanisms vary depending on the particular architecture used for the encoder and decoder (recurrent, feed-forward, etc.) are also not well understood. In this work, we investigate how encoder-decoder networks solve different sequence-to-sequence tasks. We introduce a way of decomposing hidden states over a sequence into temporal (independent of input) and inputdriven (independent of sequence position) components. This reveals how attention matrices are formed: depending on the task requirements, networks rely more heavily on either the temporal or input-driven components. These findings hold across both recurrent and feed-forward architectures despite their differences in forming the temporal components. Overall, our results provide new insight into the inner workings of attention-based encoder-decoder networks. View details
    Preview abstract Despite the widespread application of recurrent neural networks (RNNs) across a variety of tasks, a unified understanding of how RNNs solve these tasks remains elusive. In particular, it is unclear what dynamical patterns arise in trained RNNs, and how those patterns depend on the training dataset or task. This work addresses these questions in the context of a specific natural language processing task: text classification. Using tools from dynamical systems analysis, we study recurrent networks trained on a battery of both natural and synthetic text classification tasks. We find the dynamics of these trained RNNs to be both interpretable and low-dimensional. Specifically, across architectures and datasets, RNNs accumulate evidence for each class as they process the text, using a low-dimensional attractor manifold as the underlying mechanism. Moreover, the dimensionality and geometry of the attractor manifold are determined by the structure of the training dataset; in particular, we describe how simple word-count statistics computed on the training dataset can be used to predict these properties. Our observations span multiple architectures and datasets, reflecting a common mechanism RNNs employ to perform text classification. To the degree that integration of evidence towards a decision is a common computational primitive, this work lays the foundation for using dynamical systems techniques to study the inner workings of RNNs. View details
    Preview abstract A central challenge in developing versatile machine learning systems is catastrophic forgetting: a model trained on tasks in sequence will suffer significant performance drops on earlier tasks. Despite the ubiquity of catastrophic forgetting, there is limited understanding of the underlying process and its causes. In this paper, we address this important knowledge gap, investigating how forgetting affects representations in neural network models. Through representational analysis techniques, we find that deeper layers are disproportionately the source of forgetting. Supporting this, a study of methods to mitigate forgetting illustrates that they act to stabilize deeper layers. These insights enable the development of an analytic argument and empirical picture relating the degree of forgetting to representational similarity between tasks. Consistent with this picture, we observe maximal forgetting occurs for task sequences with intermediate similarity. We perform empirical studies on the standard split CIFAR-10 setup and also introduce a novel CIFAR-100 based task approximating realistic input distribution shift. View details
    Caliban: Docker-based job manager for reproducible workflows
    Sam Ritchie
    Journal of Open Source Software, vol. 5 (2020), pp. 2403
    Preview abstract Caliban is a command line tool that helps researchers launch and track their numerical experiments in an isolated, reproducible computing environment. It was developed by machine learning researchers and engineers, and makes it easy to go from a simple prototype running on a workstation to thousands of experimental jobs running in a Cloud environment. View details
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