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Workshop: All Things Attention: Bridging Different Perspectives on Attention

Attention for Compositional Modularity

Oleksiy Ostapenko · Pau Rodriguez · Alexandre Lacoste · Laurent Charlin

Keywords: [ compositionality ] [ Attention ] [ generalization ] [ OOD ] [ Out-of-Distribution ] [ systematic generalization ] [ modularity ]


Modularity and compositionality are promising inductive biases for addressing longstanding problems in machine learning such as better systematic generalization, as well as better transfer and lower forgetting in the context of continual learning. Here we study how attention-based module selection can help achieve compositonal modularity – i.e. decomposition of tasks into meaningful sub-tasks which are tackled by independent architectural entities that we call modules. These sub-tasks must be reusable and the system should be able to learn them without additional supervision. We design a simple experimental setup in which the model is trained to solve mathematical equations with multiple math operations applied sequentially. We study different attention-based module selection strategies, inspired by the principles introduced in the recent literature. We evaluate the method’s ability to learn modules that can recover the underling sub-tasks (operation) used for data generation, as well as the ability to generalize compositionally. We find that meaningful module selection (i.e. routing) is the key to compositional generalization. Further, without access to the privileged information about which part of the input should be used for module selection, the routing component performs poorly for samples that are compositionally out of training distribution. We find that the the main reason for this lies in the routing component, since many of the tested methods perform well OOD if we report the performance of the best performing path at test time. Additionally, we study the role of the number of primitives, the number of training points and bottlenecks for modular specialization.

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