Towards Best Practices of Activation Patching in Language Models: Metrics and Methods

NeurIPS 2023 Workshop ATTRIB Submission5 Authors

Published: 27 Oct 2023, Last Modified: 08 Dec 2023ATTRIB PosterEveryoneRevisionsBibTeX
Keywords: language model interpretability, interpretability, mechanistic interpretability, circuit analysis, activation patching, large language models
TL;DR: We find that varying the hyperparameters of activation patching can lead to different interpretability results and give recommendations for best practices.
Abstract: Mechanistic interpretability seeks to understand the internal mechanisms of machine learning models, where localization—identifying the important model components—is a key step. Activation patching, also known as causal tracing or interchange intervention, is a standard technique for this task (Vig et al., 2020), but the literature contains many variants with little consensus on the choice of hyperparameters or methodology. In this work, we systematically examine the impact of methodological details in activation patching, including evaluation metrics and corruption methods. In several settings of localization and circuit discovery in language models, we find that varying these hyperparameters could lead to disparate interpretability results. Backed by empirical observations, we give conceptual arguments for why certain metrics or methods may be preferred. Finally, we provide recommendations for the best practices of activation patching going forwards.
Submission Number: 5