Scale Alone Does not Improve Mechanistic Interpretability in Vision Models

Published in arXiv, 2023

Zimmermann, R. S., Klein, T. and Brendel, W., Scale Alone Does not Improve Mechanistic Interpretability in Vision Models.

In light of the recent widespread adoption of AI systems, understanding the internal information processing of neural networks has become increasingly critical. Most recently, machine vision has seen remarkable progress by scaling neural networks to unprecedented levels in dataset and model size. We here ask whether this extraordinary increase in scale also positively impacts the field of mechanistic interpretability. In other words, has our understanding of the inner workings of scaled neural networks improved as well? We here use a psychophysical paradigm to quantify mechanistic interpretability for a diverse suite of models and find no scaling effect for interpretability - neither for model nor dataset size. Specifically, none of the nine investigated state-of-the-art models are easier to interpret than the GoogLeNet model from almost a decade ago. Latest-generation vision models appear even less interpretable than older architectures, hinting at a regression rather than improvement, with modern models sacrificing interpretability for accuracy. These results highlight the need for models explicitly designed to be mechanistically interpretable and the need for more helpful interpretability methods to increase our understanding of networks at an atomic level. We release a dataset containing more than 130’000 human responses from our psychophysical evaluation of 767 units across nine models. This dataset is meant to facilitate research on automated instead of human-based interpretability evaluations that can ultimately be leveraged to directly optimize the mechanistic interpretability of models.

Project website    Full Paper    ImageNet Mechanistic Interpretability Dataset

 author = {
  Zimmermann, Roland S. and
  Klein, Thomas and
  Brendel, Wieland
 title = {
  Scale Alone Does not Improve Mechanistic
  Interpretability in Vision Models
 year = {2023},