Neural Circuit Diagrams: Robust Diagrams for the Communication, Implementation, and Analysis of Deep Learning Architectures

Vincent Abbott


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Diagrams matter. Unfortunately, the deep learning community has no standard method for diagramming architectures. The current combination of linear algebra notation and ad-hoc diagrams fails to offer the necessary precision to understand architectures in all their detail. However, this detail is critical for faithful implementation, mathematical analysis, further innovation, and ethical assurances. I present neural circuit diagrams, a graphical language tailored to the needs of communicating deep learning architectures. Neural circuit diagrams naturally keep track of the changing arrangement of data, precisely show how operations are broadcast over axes, and display the critical parallel behavior of linear operations. A lingering issue with existing diagramming methods is the inability to simultaneously express the detail of axes and the free arrangement of data, which neural circuit diagrams solve. Their compositional structure is analogous to code, creating a close correspondence between diagrams and implementation. In this work, I introduce neural circuit diagrams for an audience of machine learning researchers. After introducing neural circuit diagrams, I cover a host of architectures to show their utility and breed familiarity. This includes the transformer architecture, convolution (and its difficult-to-explain extensions), residual networks, the U-Net, and the vision transformer. I include a Jupyter notebook that provides evidence for the close correspondence between diagrams and code. Finally, I examine backpropagation using neural circuit diagrams. I show their utility in providing mathematical insight and analyzing algorithms' time and space complexities.