Reliability of CKA as a Similarity Measure in Deep LearningDownload PDF

Published: 01 Feb 2023, Last Modified: 01 Mar 2023ICLR 2023 posterReaders: Everyone
Keywords: Representation Learning, Similarity Measures, Centered Kernel Alignment (CKA)
Abstract: Comparing learned neural representations in neural networks is a challenging but important problem, which has been approached in different ways. The Centered Kernel Alignment (CKA) similarity metric, particularly its linear variant, has recently become a popular approach and has been widely used to compare representations of a network's different layers, of architecturally similar networks trained differently, or of models with different architectures trained on the same data. A wide variety of claims about similarity and dissimilarity of these various representations have been made using CKA results. In this work we present analysis that formally characterizes CKA sensitivity to a large class of simple transformations, which can naturally occur in the context of modern machine learning. This provides a concrete explanation to CKA sensitivity to outliers, which has been observed in past works, and to transformations that preserve the linear separability of the data, an important generalization attribute. We empirically investigate several weaknesses of the CKA similarity metric, demonstrating situations in which it gives unexpected or counterintuitive results. Finally we study approaches for modifying representations to maintain functional behaviour while changing the CKA value. Our results illustrate that, in many cases, the CKA value can be easily manipulated without substantial changes to the functional behaviour of the models, and call for caution when leveraging activation alignment metrics.
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TL;DR: We extensively study a broad class of cases where the very popular CKA analysis method for deep representations can give unreliable results.
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