Is cognition a collection of loosely connected functions tuned to different tasks, or is it more like a general learning algorithm? If such an hypothetical general algorithm did exist, tuned to our world, could it adapt seamlessly to a world with different laws of nature? We consider the theory that predictive coding is such a general rule, and falsify it for one specific neural architecture known for high-performance predictions on natural videos and replication of human visual illusions: PredNet. Our results show that PredNet’s high performance generalizes without retraining on a completely different natural video dataset. Yet PredNet cannot be trained to reach even mediocre accuracy on an artificial video dataset created with the rules of the Game of Life (GoL). We also find that a submodule of PredNet, a Convolutional Neural Network trained alone, has excellent accuracy on the GoL while having mediocre accuracy on natural videos, showing that PredNet’s architecture itself might be responsible for both the high performance on natural videos and the loss of performance on the GoL. Just as humans cannot predict the dynamics of the GoL, our results suggest that there could be a trade-off between high performance on sensory inputs with different sets of rules.

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Author notes


These authors contributed equally to the paper.