Neural Circuit Architectural Priors for Embodied Control

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 35 (NeurIPS 2022) Main Conference Track

Bibtex Paper Supplemental


Nikhil Bhattasali, Anthony M Zador, Tatiana Engel


Artificial neural networks for motor control usually adopt generic architectures like fully connected MLPs. While general, these tabula rasa architectures rely on large amounts of experience to learn, are not easily transferable to new bodies, and have internal dynamics that are difficult to interpret. In nature, animals are born with highly structured connectivity in their nervous systems shaped by evolution; this innate circuitry acts synergistically with learning mechanisms to provide inductive biases that enable most animals to function well soon after birth and learn efficiently. Convolutional networks inspired by visual circuitry have encoded useful biases for vision. However, it is unknown the extent to which ANN architectures inspired by neural circuitry can yield useful biases for other AI domains. In this work, we ask what advantages biologically inspired ANN architecture can provide in the domain of motor control. Specifically, we translate C. elegans locomotion circuits into an ANN model controlling a simulated Swimmer agent. On a locomotion task, our architecture achieves good initial performance and asymptotic performance comparable with MLPs, while dramatically improving data efficiency and requiring orders of magnitude fewer parameters. Our architecture is interpretable and transfers to new body designs. An ablation analysis shows that constrained excitation/inhibition is crucial for learning, while weight initialization contributes to good initial performance. Our work demonstrates several advantages of biologically inspired ANN architecture and encourages future work in more complex embodied control.