Visualizing the PHATE of Neural Networks

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 32 (NeurIPS 2019)

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Scott Gigante, Adam S. Charles, Smita Krishnaswamy, Gal Mishne


Understanding why and how certain neural networks outperform others is key to guiding future development of network architectures and optimization methods. To this end, we introduce a novel visualization algorithm that reveals the internal geometry of such networks: Multislice PHATE (M-PHATE), the first method designed explicitly to visualize how a neural network's hidden representations of data evolve throughout the course of training. We demonstrate that our visualization provides intuitive, detailed summaries of the learning dynamics beyond simple global measures (i.e., validation loss and accuracy), without the need to access validation data. Furthermore, M-PHATE better captures both the dynamics and community structure of the hidden units as compared to visualization based on standard dimensionality reduction methods (e.g., ISOMAP, t-SNE). We demonstrate M-PHATE with two vignettes: continual learning and generalization. In the former, the M-PHATE visualizations display the mechanism of "catastrophic forgetting" which is a major challenge for learning in task-switching contexts. In the latter, our visualizations reveal how increased heterogeneity among hidden units correlates with improved generalization performance. An implementation of M-PHATE, along with scripts to reproduce the figures in this paper, is available at