On the Symmetries of Deep Learning Models and their Internal Representations

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

Bibtex Paper Supplemental


Charles Godfrey, Davis Brown, Tegan Emerson, Henry Kvinge


Symmetry has been a fundamental tool in the exploration of a broad range of complex systems. In machine learning, symmetry has been explored in both models and data. In this paper we seek to connect the symmetries arising from the architecture of a family of models with the symmetries of that family’s internal representation of data. We do this by calculating a set of fundamental symmetry groups, which we call the intertwiner groups of the model. Each of these arises from a particular nonlinear layer of the model and different nonlinearities result in different symmetry groups. These groups change the weights of a model in such a way that the underlying function that the model represents remains constant but the internal representations of data inside the model may change. We connect intertwiner groups to a model’s internal representations of data through a range of experiments that probe similarities between hidden states across models with the same architecture. Our work suggests that the symmetries of a network are propagated into the symmetries in that network’s representation of data, providing us with a better understanding of how architecture affects the learning and prediction process. Finally, we speculate that for ReLU networks, the intertwiner groups may provide a justification for the common practice of concentrating model interpretability exploration on the activation basis in hidden layers rather than arbitrary linear combinations thereof.