AI Seminar Series - Prof. Lenka Zdeborová

Jun 25, 2024
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Prof. Lenka Zdeborová

Prof. Lenka Zdeborová

25th June, 2024, 3:00pm (GST)


Title:A Phase Transition between Positional and Semantic Learning in a Solvable Model of Dot-Product Attention
Affiliation:École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne
Abstract:Many empirical studies have provided evidence for the emergence of algorithmic mechanisms (abilities) in the learning of language models, that lead to qualitative improvements of the model capabilities. Yet, a theoretical characterization of how such mechanisms emerge remains elusive. In this paper, we take a step in this direction by providing a tight theoretical analysis of the emergence of semantic attention in a solvable model of dot-product attention. More precisely, we consider a non-linear self-attention layer with trainable tied and low-rank query and key matrices. In the asymptotic limit of high-dimensional data and a comparably large number of training samples we provide a tight closed-form characterization of the global minimum of the non-convex empirical loss landscape. We show that this minimum corresponds to either a positional attention mechanism (with tokens attending to each other based on their respective positions) or a semantic attention mechanism (with tokens attending to each other based on their meaning), and evidence an emergent phase transition from the former to the latter with increasing sample complexity. Finally, we compare the dot-product attention layer to a linear positional baseline, and show that it outperforms the latter using the semantic mechanism provided it has access to sufficient data.
Bio:Lenka Zdeborová is a Professor of Physics and Computer Science at École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, where she leads the Statistical Physics of Computation Laboratory. She received a PhD in physics from the University of Paris-Sud and Charles University in Prague in 2008. She spent two years in the Los Alamos National Laboratory as the Director's Postdoctoral Fellow. Between 2010 and 2020, she was a researcher at CNRS, working in the Institute of Theoretical Physics in CEA Saclay, France. In 2014, she was awarded the CNRS bronze medal, in 2016 Philippe Meyer prize in theoretical physics and an ERC Starting Grant, in 2018 the Irène Joliot-Curie prize, in 2021 the Gibbs lectureship of AMS and the Neuron Fund award. She was an editorial board member for the Journal of Physics A, Physical Review E, Physical Review X, SIMODS, Machine Learning: Science and Technology, and Information and Inference. Lenka's expertise is in the application of concepts from statistical physics, such as advanced mean field methods, the replica method, and related message-passing algorithms, to problems in machine learning, signal processing, inference, and optimization. She enjoys erasing the boundaries between theoretical physics, mathematics and computer science.