Training recurrent neural networks (RNNs) is a hard problem due to degeneracies in the optimization landscape, a problem also known as the vanishing/exploding gradients problem. Short of designing new RNN architectures, various methods for dealing with this problem that have been previously proposed usually boil down to orthogonalization of the recurrent dynamics, either at initialization or during the entire training period. The basic motivation behind these methods is that orthogonal transformations are isometries of the Euclidean space, hence they preserve (Euclidean) norms and effectively deal with the vanishing/exploding gradients problem. However, this idea ignores the crucial effects of non-linearity and noise. In the presence of a non-linearity, orthogonal transformations no longer preserve norms, suggesting that alternative transformations might be better suited to non-linear networks. Moreover, in the presence of noise, norm preservation itself ceases to be the ideal objective. A more sensible objective is maximizing the signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) of the propagated signal instead. Previous work has shown that in the linear case, recurrent networks that maximize the SNR display strongly non-normal dynamics and orthogonal networks are highly suboptimal by this measure. Motivated by this finding, in this paper, we investigate the potential of non-normal RNNs, i.e. RNNs with a non-normal recurrent connectivity matrix, in sequential processing tasks. Our experimental results show that non-normal RNNs significantly outperform their orthogonal counterparts in a diverse range of benchmarks. We also find evidence for increased non-normality and hidden chain-like feedforward structures in trained RNNs initialized with orthogonal recurrent connectivity matrices.

Sengupta, Biswa, Friston, Karl J.

Convolutional and Recurrent, deep neural networks have been successful in machine learning systems for computer vision, reinforcement learning, and other allied fields. However, the robustness of such neural networks is seldom apprised, especially after high classification accuracy has been attained. In this paper, we evaluate the robustness of three recurrent neural networks to tiny perturbations, on three widely used datasets, to argue that high accuracy does not always mean a stable and a robust (to bounded perturbations, adversarial attacks, etc.) system. Especially, normalizing the spectrum of the discrete recurrent network to bound the spectrum (using power method, Rayleigh quotient, etc.) on a unit disk produces stable, albeit highly non-robust neural networks. Furthermore, using the $\epsilon$-pseudo-spectrum, we show that training of recurrent networks, say using gradient-based methods, often result in non-normal matrices that may or may not be diagonalizable. Therefore, the open problem lies in constructing methods that optimize not only for accuracy but also for the stability and the robustness of the underlying neural network, a criterion that is distinct from the other.

Helfrich, Kyle, Willmott, Devin, Ye, Qiang

Recurrent Neural Networks (RNNs) are designed to handle sequential data but suffer from vanishing or exploding gradients. Recent work on Unitary Recurrent Neural Networks (uRNNs) have been used to address this issue and in some cases, exceed the capabilities of Long Short-Term Memory networks (LSTMs). We propose a simpler and novel update scheme to maintain orthogonal recurrent weight matrices without using complex valued matrices. This is done by parametrizing with a skew-symmetric matrix using the Cayley transform. Such a parametrization is unable to represent matrices with negative one eigenvalues, but this limitation is overcome by scaling the recurrent weight matrix by a diagonal matrix consisting of ones and negative ones. The proposed training scheme involves a straightforward gradient calculation and update step. In several experiments, the proposed scaled Cayley orthogonal recurrent neural network (scoRNN) achieves superior results with fewer trainable parameters than other unitary RNNs.

Lezcano-Casado, Mario, Martínez-Rubio, David

We introduce a novel approach to perform first-order optimization with orthogonal and unitary constraints. This approach is based on a parametrization stemming from Lie group theory through the exponential map. The parametrization transforms the constrained optimization problem into an unconstrained one over a Euclidean space, for which common first-order optimization methods can be used. The theoretical results presented are general enough to cover the special orthogonal group, the unitary group and, in general, any connected compact Lie group. We discuss how this and other parametrizations can be computed efficiently through an implementation trick, making numerically complex parametrizations usable at a negligible runtime cost in neural networks. In particular, we apply our results to RNNs with orthogonal recurrent weights, yielding a new architecture called expRNN. We demonstrate how our method constitutes a more robust approach to optimization with orthogonal constraints, showing faster, accurate, and more stable convergence in several tasks designed to test RNNs.

Chandar, Sarath, Sankar, Chinnadhurai, Vorontsov, Eugene, Kahou, Samira Ebrahimi, Bengio, Yoshua

Modelling long-term dependencies is a challenge for recurrent neural networks. This is primarily due to the fact that gradients vanish during training, as the sequence length increases. Gradients can be attenuated by transition operators and are attenuated or dropped by activation functions. Canonical architectures like LSTM alleviate this issue by skipping information through a memory mechanism. We propose a new recurrent architecture (Non-saturating Recurrent Unit; NRU) that relies on a memory mechanism but forgoes both saturating activation functions and saturating gates, in order to further alleviate vanishing gradients. In a series of synthetic and real world tasks, we demonstrate that the proposed model is the only model that performs among the top 2 models across all tasks with and without long-term dependencies, when compared against a range of other architectures.