The geometry of integration in text classification RNNs

10/28/2020 ∙ by Kyle Aitken, et al. ∙ 13

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.

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