Universality and individuality in neural dynamics across large populations of recurrent networks

Niru Maheswaranathan, Alex H. Williams, Matthew D. Golub, Surya Ganguli, David Sussillo

Research output: Contribution to journalConference articlepeer-review


Task-based modeling with recurrent neural networks (RNNs) has emerged as a popular way to infer the computational function of different brain regions. These models are quantitatively assessed by comparing the low-dimensional neural representations of the model with the brain, for example using canonical correlation analysis (CCA). However, the nature of the detailed neurobiological inferences one can draw from such efforts remains elusive. For example, to what extent does training neural networks to solve common tasks uniquely determine the network dynamics, independent of modeling architectural choices? Or alternatively, are the learned dynamics highly sensitive to different model choices? Knowing the answer to these questions has strong implications for whether and how we should use task-based RNN modeling to understand brain dynamics. To address these foundational questions, we study populations of thousands of networks, with commonly used RNN architectures, trained to solve neuroscientifically motivated tasks and characterize their nonlinear dynamics. We find the geometry of the RNN representations can be highly sensitive to different network architectures, yielding a cautionary tale for measures of similarity that rely on representational geometry, such as CCA. Moreover, we find that while the geometry of neural dynamics can vary greatly across architectures, the underlying computational scaffold'the topological structure of fixed points, transitions between them, limit cycles, and linearized dynamics'often appears universal across all architectures.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalAdvances in Neural Information Processing Systems
StatePublished - 2019
Event33rd Annual Conference on Neural Information Processing Systems, NeurIPS 2019 - Vancouver, Canada
Duration: Dec 8 2019Dec 14 2019

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Computer Networks and Communications
  • Information Systems
  • Signal Processing


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