Residual Alignment: Uncovering the Mechanisms of Residual Networks

Jianing Li · Vardan Papyan

Great Hall & Hall B1+B2 (level 1) #328
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Thu 14 Dec 3 p.m. PST — 5 p.m. PST

Abstract: The ResNet architecture has been widely adopted in deep learning due to its significant boost to performance through the use of simple skip connections, yet the underlying mechanisms leading to its success remain largely unknown. In this paper, we conduct a thorough empirical study of the ResNet architecture in classification tasks by linearizing its constituent residual blocks using Residual Jacobians and measuring their singular value decompositions. Our measurements ([code]( reveal a process called Residual Alignment (RA) characterized by four properties:- **(RA1):** intermediate representations of a given input are *equispaced* on a *line*, embedded in high dimensional space, as observed by Gai and Zhang [2021];- **(RA2):** top left and right singular vectors of Residual Jacobians align with each other and across different depths;- **(RA3):** Residual Jacobians are at most rank $C$ for fully-connected ResNets, where $C$ is the number of classes; and- **(RA4):** top singular values of Residual Jacobians scale inversely with depth.RA consistently occurs in models that generalize well, in both fully-connected and convolutional architectures, across various depths and widths, for varying numbers of classes, on all tested benchmark datasets, but ceases to occur once the skip connections are removed. It also provably occurs in a novel mathematical model we propose. This phenomenon reveals a strong alignment between residual branches of a ResNet (RA2+4), imparting a highly rigid geometric structure to the intermediate representations as they progress *linearly* through the network (RA1) up to the final layer, where they undergo Neural Collapse.

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