Samy Bengio - Can neural networks learn to reason?


The successes of deep learning critically rely on the ability of neural networks to output meaningful predictions on unseen data – generalization. Yet despite its criticality, there remain fundamental open questions on how neural networks generalize. How much do neural networks rely on memorization – seeing highly similar training examples – and how much are they capable of human-intelligence styled reasoning – identifying abstract rules underlying the data? In this work we introduce a novel benchmark, Pointer Value Retrieval (PVR) tasks, that explore the limits of neural network generalization. While PVR tasks can consist of visual as well as symbolic inputs, each with varying levels of difficulty, they all have a simple underlying rule. One part of the PVR task input acts as a pointer, giving the location of a different part of the input, which forms the value (and output). We demonstrate that this task structure provides a rich testbed for understanding generalization, with our empirical study showing large variations in neural network performance based on dataset size, task complexity and model architecture. The interaction of position, values and the pointer rule also allow the development of nuanced tests of generalization, by introducing distribution shift and increasing functional complexity. These reveal both subtle failures and surprising successes, suggesting many promising directions of exploration on this benchmark.