On the special role of class-selective neurons in early training

Published: 08 Sept 2023, Last Modified: 08 Sept 2023Accepted by TMLREveryoneRevisionsBibTeX
Abstract: It is commonly observed that deep networks trained for classification exhibit class-selective neurons in their early and intermediate layers. Intriguingly, recent studies have shown that these class-selective neurons can be ablated without deteriorating network function. But if class-selective neurons are not necessary, why do they exist? We attempt to answer this question in a series of experiments on ResNet-50s trained on ImageNet. We first show that class-selective neurons emerge during the first few epochs of training, before receding rapidly but not completely; this suggests that class-selective neurons found in trained networks are in fact vestigial remains of early training. With single-neuron ablation experiments, we then show that class-selective neurons are important for network function in this early phase of training. We also observe that the network is close to a linear regime in this early phase; we thus speculate that class-selective neurons appear early in training as quasi-linear shortcut solutions to the classification task. Finally, in causal experiments where we regularize against class selectivity at different points in training, we show that the presence of class-selective neurons early in training is critical to the successful training of the network; in contrast, class-selective neurons can be suppressed later in training with little effect on final accuracy. It remains to be understood by which mechanism the presence of class-selective neurons in the early phase of training contributes to the successful training of networks.
License: Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)
Submission Length: Regular submission (no more than 12 pages of main content)
Changes Since Last Submission: Updating with the camera-ready version 1. Added discussions related to the significance of studying the class selectivity phenomenon in the camera-ready paper (Appendix A.10) 2. Added link to Github Repository
Code: https://github.com/Omkar-Ranadive/Class-Selective-Neurons
Assigned Action Editor: ~Yunhe_Wang1
Submission Number: 1202