Special Seminar with Andrew Saxe

Monday, February 12, 2024 at 1:30pm to 2:30pm

Building 46, Singleton
43 VASSAR ST, Cambridge, MA 02139

Talk Title: Principles of learning in distributed neural networks

Abstract: The brain is an unparalleled learning machine, yet the principles that govern learning in the brain remain unclear. In this talk I will suggest that depth–the serial propagation of signals–may be a key principle sculpting learning dynamics in the brain and mind. To understand several consequences of depth, I will present mathematical analyses of the nonlinear dynamics of learning in a variety of simple solvable deep network models. Building from this theoretical work, I will trace implications for the development of human semantic cognition, showing that deep but not shallow networks exhibit hierarchical differentiation of concepts through rapid developmental transitions and ubiquitous semantic illusions between such transitions. Finally, turning to rodent systems neuroscience, I will show that deep network dynamics can account for individually variable yet systematic transitions in strategy as mice learn a visual detection task over several weeks. Together, these results provide analytic insight into how the statistics of an environment can interact with nonlinear deep learning dynamics to structure evolving neural representations and behavior over learning.

Bio: Andrew Saxe is a Henry Dale Fellow and Joint Group Leader at the Gatsby Computational Neuroscience Unit and Sainsbury Wellcome Centre. He was previously an Associate Professor in the Department of Experimental Psychology at the University of Oxford. He completed a Swartz Postdoctoral Fellowship in Theoretical Neuroscience at Harvard University with Haim Sompolinsky, and completed his PhD in Electrical Engineering at Stanford University, advised by Jay McClelland, Surya Ganguli, Andrew Ng, and Christoph Schreiner. His dissertation received the Robert J. Glushko Dissertation Prize from the Cognitive Science Society. His research focuses on the theory of deep learning and its applications to phenomena in neuroscience and psychology. He was awarded a Sir Henry Dale Fellowship from the Wellcome Trust and Royal Society, and the Wellcome-Beit Prize. He is also a CIFAR Azrieli Global Scholar in the CIFAR Learning in Machines & Brains programme.



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