Representing Formal Languages: A Comparison Between Finite Automata and Recurrent Neural Networks

Sep 27, 2018 ICLR 2019 Conference Blind Submission readers: everyone Show Bibtex
  • Abstract: We investigate the internal representations that a recurrent neural network (RNN) uses while learning to recognize a regular formal language. Specifically, we train a RNN on positive and negative examples from a regular language, and ask if there is a simple decoding function that maps states of this RNN to states of the minimal deterministic finite automaton (MDFA) for the language. Our experiments show that such a decoding function indeed exists, and that it maps states of the RNN not to MDFA states, but to states of an {\em abstraction} obtained by clustering small sets of MDFA states into ``''superstates''. A qualitative analysis reveals that the abstraction often has a simple interpretation. Overall, the results suggest a strong structural relationship between internal representations used by RNNs and finite automata, and explain the well-known ability of RNNs to recognize formal grammatical structure.
  • Keywords: Language recognition, Recurrent Neural Networks, Representation Learning, deterministic finite automaton, automaton
  • TL;DR: Finite Automata Can be Linearly decoded from Language-Recognizing RNNs using low coarseness abstraction functions and high accuracy decoders.
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