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James B. Simon

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More is Better in Modern Machine Learning: when Infinite Overparameterization is Optimal and Overfitting is Obligatory

Nov 27, 2023
James B. Simon, Dhruva Karkada, Nikhil Ghosh, Mikhail Belkin

In our era of enormous neural networks, empirical progress has been driven by the philosophy that more is better. Recent deep learning practice has found repeatedly that larger model size, more data, and more computation (resulting in lower training loss) improves performance. In this paper, we give theoretical backing to these empirical observations by showing that these three properties hold in random feature (RF) regression, a class of models equivalent to shallow networks with only the last layer trained. Concretely, we first show that the test risk of RF regression decreases monotonically with both the number of features and the number of samples, provided the ridge penalty is tuned optimally. In particular, this implies that infinite width RF architectures are preferable to those of any finite width. We then proceed to demonstrate that, for a large class of tasks characterized by powerlaw eigenstructure, training to near-zero training loss is obligatory: near-optimal performance can only be achieved when the training error is much smaller than the test error. Grounding our theory in real-world data, we find empirically that standard computer vision tasks with convolutional neural tangent kernels clearly fall into this class. Taken together, our results tell a simple, testable story of the benefits of overparameterization, overfitting, and more data in random feature models.

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A Spectral Condition for Feature Learning

Oct 26, 2023
Greg Yang, James B. Simon, Jeremy Bernstein

The push to train ever larger neural networks has motivated the study of initialization and training at large network width. A key challenge is to scale training so that a network's internal representations evolve nontrivially at all widths, a process known as feature learning. Here, we show that feature learning is achieved by scaling the spectral norm of weight matrices and their updates like $\sqrt{\texttt{fan-out}/\texttt{fan-in}}$, in contrast to widely used but heuristic scalings based on Frobenius norm and entry size. Our spectral scaling analysis also leads to an elementary derivation of \emph{maximal update parametrization}. All in all, we aim to provide the reader with a solid conceptual understanding of feature learning in neural networks.

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Les Houches Lectures on Deep Learning at Large & Infinite Width

Sep 08, 2023
Yasaman Bahri, Boris Hanin, Antonin Brossollet, Vittorio Erba, Christian Keup, Rosalba Pacelli, James B. Simon

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These lectures, presented at the 2022 Les Houches Summer School on Statistical Physics and Machine Learning, focus on the infinite-width limit and large-width regime of deep neural networks. Topics covered include various statistical and dynamical properties of these networks. In particular, the lecturers discuss properties of random deep neural networks; connections between trained deep neural networks, linear models, kernels, and Gaussian processes that arise in the infinite-width limit; and perturbative and non-perturbative treatments of large but finite-width networks, at initialization and after training.

* These are notes from lectures delivered by Yasaman Bahri and Boris Hanin at the 2022 Les Houches Summer School on Statistics Physics and Machine Learning and a first version of them were transcribed by Antonin Brossollet, Vittorio Erba, Christian Keup, Rosalba Pacelli, James B. Simon 
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An Agnostic View on the Cost of Overfitting in (Kernel) Ridge Regression

Jun 22, 2023
Lijia Zhou, James B. Simon, Gal Vardi, Nathan Srebro

We study the cost of overfitting in noisy kernel ridge regression (KRR), which we define as the ratio between the test error of the interpolating ridgeless model and the test error of the optimally-tuned model. We take an "agnostic" view in the following sense: we consider the cost as a function of sample size for any target function, even if the sample size is not large enough for consistency or the target is outside the RKHS. We analyze the cost of overfitting under a Gaussian universality ansatz using recently derived (non-rigorous) risk estimates in terms of the task eigenstructure. Our analysis provides a more refined characterization of benign, tempered and catastrophic overfitting (qv Mallinar et al. 2022).

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Tune As You Scale: Hyperparameter Optimization For Compute Efficient Training

Jun 13, 2023
Abraham J. Fetterman, Ellie Kitanidis, Joshua Albrecht, Zachary Polizzi, Bryden Fogelman, Maksis Knutins, Bartosz Wróblewski, James B. Simon, Kanjun Qiu

Hyperparameter tuning of deep learning models can lead to order-of-magnitude performance gains for the same amount of compute. Despite this, systematic tuning is uncommon, particularly for large models, which are expensive to evaluate and tend to have many hyperparameters, necessitating difficult judgment calls about tradeoffs, budgets, and search bounds. To address these issues and propose a practical method for robustly tuning large models, we present Cost-Aware Pareto Region Bayesian Search (CARBS), a Bayesian optimization algorithm that performs local search around the performance-cost Pareto frontier. CARBS does well even in unbounded search spaces with many hyperparameters, learns scaling relationships so that it can tune models even as they are scaled up, and automates much of the "black magic" of tuning. Among our results, we effectively solve the entire ProcGen benchmark just by tuning a simple baseline (PPO, as provided in the original ProcGen paper). We also reproduce the model size vs. training tokens scaling result from the Chinchilla project (Hoffmann et al. 2022), while simultaneously discovering scaling laws for every other hyperparameter, via an easy automated process that uses significantly less compute and is applicable to any deep learning problem (not just language models).

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On the stepwise nature of self-supervised learning

Mar 27, 2023
James B. Simon, Maksis Knutins, Liu Ziyin, Daniel Geisz, Abraham J. Fetterman, Joshua Albrecht

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We present a simple picture of the training process of self-supervised learning methods with joint embedding networks. We find that these methods learn their high-dimensional embeddings one dimension at a time in a sequence of discrete, well-separated steps. We arrive at this conclusion via the study of a linearized model of Barlow Twins applicable to the case in which the trained network is infinitely wide. We solve the training dynamics of this model from small initialization, finding that the model learns the top eigenmodes of a certain contrastive kernel in a stepwise fashion, and obtain a closed-form expression for the final learned representations. Remarkably, we then see the same stepwise learning phenomenon when training deep ResNets using the Barlow Twins, SimCLR, and VICReg losses. Our theory suggests that, just as kernel regression can be thought of as a model of supervised learning, \textit{kernel PCA} may serve as a useful model of self-supervised learning.

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Avalon: A Benchmark for RL Generalization Using Procedurally Generated Worlds

Oct 24, 2022
Joshua Albrecht, Abraham J. Fetterman, Bryden Fogelman, Ellie Kitanidis, Bartosz Wróblewski, Nicole Seo, Michael Rosenthal, Maksis Knutins, Zachary Polizzi, James B. Simon, Kanjun Qiu

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Despite impressive successes, deep reinforcement learning (RL) systems still fall short of human performance on generalization to new tasks and environments that differ from their training. As a benchmark tailored for studying RL generalization, we introduce Avalon, a set of tasks in which embodied agents in highly diverse procedural 3D worlds must survive by navigating terrain, hunting or gathering food, and avoiding hazards. Avalon is unique among existing RL benchmarks in that the reward function, world dynamics, and action space are the same for every task, with tasks differentiated solely by altering the environment; its 20 tasks, ranging in complexity from eat and throw to hunt and navigate, each create worlds in which the agent must perform specific skills in order to survive. This setup enables investigations of generalization within tasks, between tasks, and to compositional tasks that require combining skills learned from previous tasks. Avalon includes a highly efficient simulator, a library of baselines, and a benchmark with scoring metrics evaluated against hundreds of hours of human performance, all of which are open-source and publicly available. We find that standard RL baselines make progress on most tasks but are still far from human performance, suggesting Avalon is challenging enough to advance the quest for generalizable RL.

* Accepted to NeurIPS Datasets and Benchmarks 2022. Video and links to all code, data, etc can be found at 
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On Kernel Regression with Data-Dependent Kernels

Sep 04, 2022
James B. Simon

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The primary hyperparameter in kernel regression (KR) is the choice of kernel. In most theoretical studies of KR, one assumes the kernel is fixed before seeing the training data. Under this assumption, it is known that the optimal kernel is equal to the prior covariance of the target function. In this note, we consider KR in which the kernel may be updated after seeing the training data. We point out that an analogous choice of kernel using the posterior of the target function is optimal in this setting. Connections to the view of deep neural networks as data-dependent kernel learners are discussed.

* 7 pages, 1 figure 
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Benign, Tempered, or Catastrophic: A Taxonomy of Overfitting

Jul 14, 2022
Neil Mallinar, James B. Simon, Amirhesam Abedsoltan, Parthe Pandit, Mikhail Belkin, Preetum Nakkiran

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The practical success of overparameterized neural networks has motivated the recent scientific study of interpolating methods, which perfectly fit their training data. Certain interpolating methods, including neural networks, can fit noisy training data without catastrophically bad test performance, in defiance of standard intuitions from statistical learning theory. Aiming to explain this, a body of recent work has studied $\textit{benign overfitting}$, a phenomenon where some interpolating methods approach Bayes optimality, even in the presence of noise. In this work we argue that while benign overfitting has been instructive and fruitful to study, many real interpolating methods like neural networks $\textit{do not fit benignly}$: modest noise in the training set causes nonzero (but non-infinite) excess risk at test time, implying these models are neither benign nor catastrophic but rather fall in an intermediate regime. We call this intermediate regime $\textit{tempered overfitting}$, and we initiate its systematic study. We first explore this phenomenon in the context of kernel (ridge) regression (KR) by obtaining conditions on the ridge parameter and kernel eigenspectrum under which KR exhibits each of the three behaviors. We find that kernels with powerlaw spectra, including Laplace kernels and ReLU neural tangent kernels, exhibit tempered overfitting. We then empirically study deep neural networks through the lens of our taxonomy, and find that those trained to interpolation are tempered, while those stopped early are benign. We hope our work leads to a more refined understanding of overfitting in modern learning.

* NM and JB co-first authors 
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Beyond the Imitation Game: Quantifying and extrapolating the capabilities of language models

Jun 10, 2022
Aarohi Srivastava, Abhinav Rastogi, Abhishek Rao, Abu Awal Md Shoeb, Abubakar Abid, Adam Fisch, Adam R. Brown, Adam Santoro, Aditya Gupta, Adrià Garriga-Alonso, Agnieszka Kluska, Aitor Lewkowycz, Akshat Agarwal, Alethea Power, Alex Ray, Alex Warstadt, Alexander W. Kocurek, Ali Safaya, Ali Tazarv, Alice Xiang, Alicia Parrish, Allen Nie, Aman Hussain, Amanda Askell, Amanda Dsouza, Ambrose Slone, Ameet Rahane, Anantharaman S. Iyer, Anders Andreassen, Andrea Madotto, Andrea Santilli, Andreas Stuhlmüller, Andrew Dai, Andrew La, Andrew Lampinen, Andy Zou, Angela Jiang, Angelica Chen, Anh Vuong, Animesh Gupta, Anna Gottardi, Antonio Norelli, Anu Venkatesh, Arash Gholamidavoodi, Arfa Tabassum, Arul Menezes, Arun Kirubarajan, Asher Mullokandov, Ashish Sabharwal, Austin Herrick, Avia Efrat, Aykut Erdem, Ayla Karakaş, B. Ryan Roberts, Bao Sheng Loe, Barret Zoph, Bartłomiej Bojanowski, Batuhan Özyurt, Behnam Hedayatnia, Behnam Neyshabur, Benjamin Inden, Benno Stein, Berk Ekmekci, Bill Yuchen Lin, Blake Howald, Cameron Diao, Cameron Dour, Catherine Stinson, Cedrick Argueta, César Ferri Ramírez, Chandan Singh, Charles Rathkopf, Chenlin Meng, Chitta Baral, Chiyu Wu, Chris Callison-Burch, Chris Waites, Christian Voigt, Christopher D. Manning, Christopher Potts, Cindy Ramirez, Clara E. Rivera, Clemencia Siro, Colin Raffel, Courtney Ashcraft, Cristina Garbacea, Damien Sileo, Dan Garrette, Dan Hendrycks, Dan Kilman, Dan Roth, Daniel Freeman, Daniel Khashabi, Daniel Levy, Daniel Moseguí González, Danielle Perszyk, Danny Hernandez, Danqi Chen, Daphne Ippolito, Dar Gilboa, David Dohan, David Drakard, David Jurgens, Debajyoti Datta, Deep Ganguli, Denis Emelin, Denis Kleyko, Deniz Yuret, Derek Chen, Derek Tam, Dieuwke Hupkes, Diganta Misra, Dilyar Buzan, Dimitri Coelho Mollo, Diyi Yang, Dong-Ho Lee, Ekaterina Shutova, Ekin Dogus Cubuk, Elad Segal, Eleanor Hagerman, Elizabeth Barnes, Elizabeth Donoway, Ellie Pavlick, Emanuele Rodola, Emma Lam, Eric Chu, Eric Tang, Erkut Erdem, Ernie Chang, Ethan A. Chi, Ethan Dyer, Ethan Jerzak, Ethan Kim, Eunice Engefu Manyasi, Evgenii Zheltonozhskii, Fanyue Xia, Fatemeh Siar, Fernando Martínez-Plumed, Francesca Happé, Francois Chollet, Frieda Rong, Gaurav Mishra, Genta Indra Winata, Gerard de Melo, Germán Kruszewski, Giambattista Parascandolo, Giorgio Mariani, Gloria Wang, Gonzalo Jaimovitch-López, Gregor Betz, Guy Gur-Ari, Hana Galijasevic, Hannah Kim, Hannah Rashkin, Hannaneh Hajishirzi, Harsh Mehta, Hayden Bogar, Henry Shevlin, Hinrich Schütze, Hiromu Yakura, Hongming Zhang, Hugh Mee Wong, Ian Ng, Isaac Noble, Jaap Jumelet, Jack Geissinger, Jackson Kernion, Jacob Hilton, Jaehoon Lee, Jaime Fernández Fisac, James B. Simon, James Koppel, James Zheng, James Zou, Jan Kocoń, Jana Thompson, Jared Kaplan, Jarema Radom, Jascha Sohl-Dickstein, Jason Phang, Jason Wei, Jason Yosinski, Jekaterina Novikova, Jelle Bosscher, Jennifer Marsh, Jeremy Kim, Jeroen Taal, Jesse Engel, Jesujoba Alabi, Jiacheng Xu, Jiaming Song, Jillian Tang, Joan Waweru, John Burden, John Miller, John U. Balis, Jonathan Berant, Jörg Frohberg, Jos Rozen, Jose Hernandez-Orallo, Joseph Boudeman, Joseph Jones, Joshua B. Tenenbaum, Joshua S. Rule, Joyce Chua, Kamil Kanclerz, Karen Livescu, Karl Krauth, Karthik Gopalakrishnan, Katerina Ignatyeva, Katja Markert, Kaustubh D. Dhole, Kevin Gimpel, Kevin Omondi, Kory Mathewson, Kristen Chiafullo, Ksenia Shkaruta, Kumar Shridhar, Kyle McDonell, Kyle Richardson, Laria Reynolds, Leo Gao, Li Zhang, Liam Dugan, Lianhui Qin, Lidia Contreras-Ochando, Louis-Philippe Morency, Luca Moschella, Lucas Lam, Lucy Noble, Ludwig Schmidt, Luheng He, Luis Oliveros Colón, Luke Metz, Lütfi Kerem Şenel, Maarten Bosma, Maarten Sap, Maartje ter Hoeve, Maheen Farooqi, Manaal Faruqui, Mantas Mazeika, Marco Baturan, Marco Marelli, Marco Maru, Maria Jose Ramírez Quintana, Marie Tolkiehn, Mario Giulianelli, Martha Lewis, Martin Potthast, Matthew L. Leavitt, Matthias Hagen, Mátyás Schubert, Medina Orduna Baitemirova, Melody Arnaud, Melvin McElrath, Michael A. Yee, Michael Cohen, Michael Gu, Michael Ivanitskiy, Michael Starritt, Michael Strube, Michał Swędrowski, Michele Bevilacqua, Michihiro Yasunaga, Mihir Kale, Mike Cain, Mimee Xu, Mirac Suzgun, Mo Tiwari, Mohit Bansal, Moin Aminnaseri, Mor Geva, Mozhdeh Gheini, Mukund Varma T, Nanyun Peng, Nathan Chi, Nayeon Lee, Neta Gur-Ari Krakover, Nicholas Cameron, Nicholas Roberts, Nick Doiron, Nikita Nangia, Niklas Deckers, Niklas Muennighoff, Nitish Shirish Keskar, Niveditha S. Iyer, Noah Constant, Noah Fiedel, Nuan Wen, Oliver Zhang, Omar Agha, Omar Elbaghdadi, Omer Levy, Owain Evans, Pablo Antonio Moreno Casares, Parth Doshi, Pascale Fung, Paul Pu Liang, Paul Vicol, Pegah Alipoormolabashi, Peiyuan Liao, Percy Liang, Peter Chang, Peter Eckersley, Phu Mon Htut, Pinyu Hwang, Piotr Miłkowski, Piyush Patil, Pouya Pezeshkpour, Priti Oli, Qiaozhu Mei, Qing Lyu, Qinlang Chen, Rabin Banjade, Rachel Etta Rudolph, Raefer Gabriel, Rahel Habacker, Ramón Risco Delgado, Raphaël Millière, Rhythm Garg, Richard Barnes, Rif A. Saurous, Riku Arakawa, Robbe Raymaekers, Robert Frank, Rohan Sikand, Roman Novak, Roman Sitelew, Ronan LeBras, Rosanne Liu, Rowan Jacobs, Rui Zhang, Ruslan Salakhutdinov, Ryan Chi, Ryan Lee, Ryan Stovall, Ryan Teehan, Rylan Yang, Sahib Singh, Saif M. Mohammad, Sajant Anand, Sam Dillavou, Sam Shleifer, Sam Wiseman, Samuel Gruetter, Samuel R. Bowman, Samuel S. Schoenholz, Sanghyun Han, Sanjeev Kwatra, Sarah A. Rous, Sarik Ghazarian, Sayan Ghosh, Sean Casey, Sebastian Bischoff, Sebastian Gehrmann, Sebastian Schuster, Sepideh Sadeghi, Shadi Hamdan, Sharon Zhou, Shashank Srivastava, Sherry Shi, Shikhar Singh, Shima Asaadi, Shixiang Shane Gu, Shubh Pachchigar, Shubham Toshniwal, Shyam Upadhyay, Shyamolima, Debnath, Siamak Shakeri, Simon Thormeyer, Simone Melzi, Siva Reddy, Sneha Priscilla Makini, Soo-Hwan Lee, Spencer Torene, Sriharsha Hatwar, Stanislas Dehaene, Stefan Divic, Stefano Ermon, Stella Biderman, Stephanie Lin, Stephen Prasad, Steven T. Piantadosi, Stuart M. Shieber, Summer Misherghi, Svetlana Kiritchenko, Swaroop Mishra, Tal Linzen, Tal Schuster, Tao Li, Tao Yu, Tariq Ali, Tatsu Hashimoto, Te-Lin Wu, Théo Desbordes, Theodore Rothschild, Thomas Phan, Tianle Wang, Tiberius Nkinyili, Timo Schick, Timofei Kornev, Timothy Telleen-Lawton, Titus Tunduny, Tobias Gerstenberg, Trenton Chang, Trishala Neeraj, Tushar Khot, Tyler Shultz, Uri Shaham, Vedant Misra, Vera Demberg, Victoria Nyamai, Vikas Raunak, Vinay Ramasesh, Vinay Uday Prabhu, Vishakh Padmakumar, Vivek Srikumar, William Fedus, William Saunders, William Zhang, Wout Vossen, Xiang Ren, Xiaoyu Tong, Xinran Zhao, Xinyi Wu, Xudong Shen, Yadollah Yaghoobzadeh, Yair Lakretz, Yangqiu Song, Yasaman Bahri, Yejin Choi, Yichi Yang, Yiding Hao, Yifu Chen, Yonatan Belinkov, Yu Hou, Yufang Hou, Yuntao Bai, Zachary Seid, Zhuoye Zhao, Zijian Wang, Zijie J. Wang, Zirui Wang, Ziyi Wu

Language models demonstrate both quantitative improvement and new qualitative capabilities with increasing scale. Despite their potentially transformative impact, these new capabilities are as yet poorly characterized. In order to inform future research, prepare for disruptive new model capabilities, and ameliorate socially harmful effects, it is vital that we understand the present and near-future capabilities and limitations of language models. To address this challenge, we introduce the Beyond the Imitation Game benchmark (BIG-bench). BIG-bench currently consists of 204 tasks, contributed by 442 authors across 132 institutions. Task topics are diverse, drawing problems from linguistics, childhood development, math, common-sense reasoning, biology, physics, social bias, software development, and beyond. BIG-bench focuses on tasks that are believed to be beyond the capabilities of current language models. We evaluate the behavior of OpenAI's GPT models, Google-internal dense transformer architectures, and Switch-style sparse transformers on BIG-bench, across model sizes spanning millions to hundreds of billions of parameters. In addition, a team of human expert raters performed all tasks in order to provide a strong baseline. Findings include: model performance and calibration both improve with scale, but are poor in absolute terms (and when compared with rater performance); performance is remarkably similar across model classes, though with benefits from sparsity; tasks that improve gradually and predictably commonly involve a large knowledge or memorization component, whereas tasks that exhibit "breakthrough" behavior at a critical scale often involve multiple steps or components, or brittle metrics; social bias typically increases with scale in settings with ambiguous context, but this can be improved with prompting.

* 27 pages, 17 figures + references and appendices, repo: 
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