Cognitive Steering in Deep Neural Networks via Long-Range Modulatory Feedback Connections

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 36 (NeurIPS 2023) Main Conference Track

Bibtex Paper Supplemental


Talia Konkle, George Alvarez


Given the rich visual information available in each glance, humans can internally direct their visual attention to enhance goal-relevant information---a capacity often absent in standard vision models. Here we introduce cognitively and biologically-inspired long-range modulatory pathways to enable `cognitive steering’ in vision models. First, we show that models equipped with these feedback pathways naturally show improved image recognition, adversarial robustness, and increased brain alignment, relative to baseline models. Further, these feedback projections from the final layer of the vision backbone provide a meaningful steering interface, where goals can be specified as vectors in the output space. We show that there are effective ways to steer the model that dramatically improve recognition of categories in composite images of multiple categories, succeeding where baseline feed-forward models without flexible steering fail. And, our multiplicative modulatory motif prevents rampant hallucination of the top-down goal category, dissociating what the model is looking for, from what it is looking at. Thus, these long-range modulatory pathways enable new behavioral capacities for goal-directed visual encoding, offering a flexible communication interface between cognitive and visual systems.