Brad Neuberg’s NIPS 2016 Notes



  • Deep Reinforcement Learning through Policy Optimization [slide deck], Pieter Abbeel and John Schulman
  • In-depth coverage of history and latest techniques on the policy optimization side of deep reinforcement learning
  • Generative Adversarial Networks [slide deck], Ian Goodfellow


Main Talks

  • Using Fast Weights to Attend to the Recent Past [paper] [summary]
  • Interesting but complex procedure that didn’t seem worth the payoff
  • “Until recently, research on artificial neural networks was largely restricted to systems with only two types of variable: Neural activities that represent the current or recent input and weights that learn to capture regularities among inputs, outputs and payoffs. There is no good reason for this restriction. Synapses have dynamics at many different time-scales and this suggests that artificial neural networks might benefit from variables that change slower than activities but much faster than the standard weights. These “fast weights” can be used to store temporary memories of the recent past and they provide a neurally plausible way of implementing the type of attention to the past that has recently proved very helpful in sequence-to-sequence models. By using fast weights we can avoid the need to store copies of neural activity patterns.”
  • Sequential Neural Models with Stochastic Layers [paper]
  • Again, interesting but complex procedure that doesn’t seem worth pairing these two models.
  • “How can we efficiently propagate uncertainty in a latent state representation with recurrent neural networks? This paper introduces stochastic recurrent neural networks which glue a deterministic recurrent neural network and a state space model together to form a stochastic and sequential neural generative model. The clear separation of deterministic and stochastic layers allows a structured variational inference network to track the factorization of the model's posterior distribution. By retaining both the nonlinear recursive structure of a recurrent neural network and averaging over the uncertainty in a latent path, like a state space model, we improve the state of the art results on the Blizzard and TIMIT speech modeling data sets by a large margin, while achieving comparable performances to competing methods on polyphonic music modeling.”
  • Phased LSTM: Accelerating Recurrent Network Training for Long or Event-based Sequences [paper]
  • Very interesting paper that was one of the highlights of the conference; very cool approach that seems pretty straightforward to apply with quite a payoff for long RNN sequences.
  • “Recurrent Neural Networks (RNNs) have become the state-of-the-art choice for extracting patterns from temporal sequences. However, current RNN models are ill-suited to process irregularly sampled data triggered by events generated in continuous time by sensors or other neurons. Such data can occur, for example, when the input comes from novel event-driven artificial sensors that generate sparse, asynchronous streams of events or from multiple conventional sensors with different update intervals. In this work, we introduce the Phased LSTM model, which extends the LSTM unit by adding a new time gate. This gate is controlled by a parametrized oscillation with a frequency range that produces updates of the memory cell only during a small percentage of the cycle. Even with the sparse updates imposed by the oscillation, the Phased LSTM network achieves faster convergence than regular LSTMs on tasks which require learning of long sequences. The model naturally integrates inputs from sensors of arbitrary sampling rates, thereby opening new areas of investigation for processing asynchronous sensory events that carry timing information. It also greatly improves the performance of LSTMs in standard RNN applications, and does so with an order-of-magnitude fewer computes at runtime.”


  • Supervised Word Mover’s Distance [paper]
  • Very interesting approach and paper
  • “Recently, a new document metric called the word mover’s distance (WMD) has been proposed with unprecedented results on kNN-based document classification. The WMD elevates high-quality word embeddings to a document metric by formulating the distance between two documents as an optimal transport problem between the embedded words. However, the document distances are entirely unsupervised and lack a mechanism to incorporate supervision when available. In this paper we propose an efficient technique to learn a supervised metric, which we call the Supervised-WMD (S-WMD) metric. The supervised training minimizes the stochastic leave-one-out nearest neighbor classification error on a per document level by updating an affine transformation of the underlying word embedding space and a word-importance weight vector. As the gradient of the original WMD distance would result in an inefficient nested optimization problem, we provide an arbitrarily close approximation that results in a practical and efficient update rule. We evaluate S-WMD on eight real-world text classification tasks on which it consistently outperforms almost all of our 26 competitive baselines.”
  • Protein contact prediction from amino acid co-evolution using convolutional networks for graph-valued images [paper]
  • Interesting way to encode graph structures into neural nets.
  • “Proteins are responsible for most of the functions in life, and thus are the central focus of many areas of biomedicine. Protein structure is strongly related to protein function, but is difficult to elucidate experimentally, therefore computational structure prediction is a crucial task on the way to solve many biological questions. A contact map is a compact representation of the three-dimensional structure of a protein via the pairwise contacts between the amino acids constituting the protein. We use a convolutional network to calculate protein contact maps from detailed evolutionary coupling statistics between positions in the protein sequence. The input to the network has an image-like structure amenable to convolutions, but every “pixel” instead of color channels contains a bipartite undirected edge-weighted graph. We propose several methods for treating such “graph-valued images” in a convolutional network. The proposed method outperforms state-of-the-art methods by a large margin.”
  • Dynamic Legged Robots
  • Cool to see new Spot robot, all-electric and very light by using 3D bone-like parts.
  • Deep Learning without Poor Local Minima [paper]
  • Stronger theoretical results for why deep learning seems to work so well in practice.
  • “In this paper, we prove a conjecture published in 1989 and also partially address an open problem announced at the Conference on Learning Theory (COLT) 2015. With no unrealistic assumption, we first prove the following statements for the squared loss function of deep linear neural networks with any depth and any widths: 1) the function is non-convex and non-concave, 2) every local minimum is a global minimum, 3) every critical point that is not a global minimum is a saddle point, and 4) there exist "bad" saddle points (where the Hessian has no negative eigenvalue) for the deeper networks (with more than three layers), whereas there is no bad saddle point for the shallow networks (with three layers). Moreover, for deep nonlinear neural networks, we prove the same four statements via a reduction to a deep linear model under the independence assumption adopted from recent work. As a result, we present an instance, for which we can answer the following question: how difficult is it to directly train a deep model in theory? It is more difficult than the classical machine learning models (because of the non-convexity), but not too difficult (because of the nonexistence of poor local minima). Furthermore, the mathematically proven existence of bad saddle points for deeper models would suggest a possible open problem. We note that even though we have advanced the theoretical foundations of deep learning and non-convex optimization, there is still a gap between theory and practice.”
  • Universal Correspondence Network [paper]
  • Really interesting work using deep nets to find correspondences between images.
  • “We present a deep learning framework for accurate visual correspondences and demonstrate its effectiveness for both geometric and semantic matching, spanning across rigid motions to intra-class shape or appearance variations. In contrast to previous CNN-based approaches that optimize a surrogate patch similarity objective, we use deep metric learning to directly learn a feature space that preserves either geometric or semantic similarity. Our fully convolutional architecture, along with a novel correspondence contrastive loss allows faster training by effective reuse of computations, accurate gradient computation through the use of thousands of examples per image pair and faster testing with O(n) feed forward passes for n keypoints, instead of O(n2) for typical patch similarity methods. We propose a convolutional spatial transformer to mimic patch normalization in traditional features like SIFT, which is shown to dramatically boost accuracy for semantic correspondences across intra-class shape variations. Extensive experiments on KITTI, PASCAL, and CUB-2011 datasets demonstrate the significant advantages of our features over prior works that use either hand-constructed or learned features.”
  • Learning to Poke by Poking: Experiential Learning of Intuitive Physics [paper]
  • Interesting work grounding RL into real world settings.
  • “We investigate an experiential learning paradigm for acquiring an internal model of intuitive physics. Our model is evaluated on a real-world robotic manipulation task that requires displacing objects to target locations by poking. The robot gathered over 400 hours of experience by executing more than 50K pokes on different objects. We propose a novel approach based on deep neural networks for modeling the dynamics of robot's interactions directly from images, by jointly estimating forward and inverse models of dynamics. The inverse model objective provides supervision to construct informative visual features, which the forward model can then predict and in turn regularize the feature space for the inverse model. The interplay between these two objectives creates useful, accurate models that can then be used for multi-step decision making. This formulation has the additional benefit that it is possible to learn forward models in an abstract feature space and thus alleviate the need of predicting pixels. Our experiments show that this joint modeling approach outperforms alternative methods. We also demonstrate that active data collection using the learned model further improves performance.”
  • Weight Normalization: A Simple Reparameterization to Accelerate Training of Deep Neural Networks [paper]
  • Very straightforward approach that looks like it can replace Batch Normalization with stronger results; also works on LSTMs and RNNs.
  • “We present weight normalization: a reparameterization of the weight vectors in a neural network that decouples the length of those weight vectors from their direction. By reparameterizing the weights in this way we improve the conditioning of the optimization problem and we speed up convergence of stochastic gradient descent. Our reparameterization is inspired by batch normalization but does not introduce any dependencies between the examples in a minibatch. This means that our method can also be applied successfully to recurrent models such as LSTMs and to noise-sensitive applications such as deep reinforcement learning or generative models, for which batch normalization is less well suited. Although our method is much simpler, it still provides much of the speed-up of full batch normalization. In addition, the computational overhead of our method is lower, permitting more optimization steps to be taken in the same amount of time. We demonstrate the usefulness of our method on applications in supervised image recognition, generative modelling, and deep reinforcement learning.”



  • Density estimation using Real NVP [paper]