Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 35 (NeurIPS 2022) Main Conference Track

*Weishun Zhong, Ben Sorscher, Daniel Lee, Haim Sompolinsky*

A central question in computational neuroscience is how structure determines function in neural networks. Recent large-scale connectomic studies have started to provide a wealth of structural information such as the distribution of excitatory/inhibitory cell and synapse types as well as the distribution of synaptic weights in the brains of different species. The emerging high-quality large structural datasets raise the question of what general functional principles can be gleaned from them. Motivated by this question, we developed a statistical mechanical theory of learning in neural networks that incorporates structural information as constraints. We derived an analytical solution for the memory capacity of the perceptron, a basic feedforward model of supervised learning, with constraint on the distribution of its weights. Interestingly, the theory predicts that the reduction in capacity due to the constrained weight-distribution is related to the Wasserstein distance between the cumulative distribution function of the constrained weights and that of the standard normal distribution. To test the theoretical predictions, we use optimal transport theory and information geometry to develop an SGD-based algorithm to find weights that simultaneously learn the input-output task and satisfy the distribution constraint. We show that training in our algorithm can be interpreted as geodesic flows in the Wasserstein space of probability distributions. Given a parameterized family of weight distributions, our theory predicts the shape of the distribution with optimal parameters. We apply our theory to map out the experimental parameter landscape for the estimated distribution of synaptic weights in mammalian cortex and show that our theory’s prediction for optimal distribution is close to the experimentally measured value. We further developed a statistical mechanical theory for teacher-student perceptron rule learning and ask for the best way for the student to incorporate prior knowledge of the rule (i.e., the teacher). Our theory shows that it is beneficial for the learner to adopt different prior weight distributions during learning, and shows that distribution-constrained learning outperforms unconstrained and sign-constrained learning. Our theory and algorithm provide novel strategies for incorporating prior knowledge about weights into learning, and reveal a powerful connection between structure and function in neural networks.

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