Rich and lazy learning of task representations in brains and neural networks


How do neural populations code for multiple, potentially conflicting tasks? Here, we used computational simulations involving neural networks to define “lazy” and “rich” coding solutions to this multitasking problem, which trade off learning speed for robustness. During lazy learning the input dimensionality is expanded by random projections to the network hidden layer, whereas in rich learning hidden units acquire structured representations that privilege relevant over irrelevant features. For context-dependent decision-making, one rich solution is to project task representations onto low-dimensional and orthogonal manifolds. Using behavioural testing and neuroimaging in humans, and analysis of neural signals from macaque prefrontal cortex, we report evidence for neural coding patterns in biological brains whose dimensionality and neural geometry are consistent with the rich learning regime.