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Abstract:The goal of this paper is to investigate the complexity of gradient algorithms when learning sparse functions (juntas). We introduce a type of Statistical Queries ($\mathsf{SQ}$), which we call Differentiable Learning Queries ($\mathsf{DLQ}$), to model gradient queries on a specified loss with respect to an arbitrary model. We provide a tight characterization of the query complexity of $\mathsf{DLQ}$ for learning the support of a sparse function over generic product distributions. This complexity crucially depends on the loss function. For the squared loss, $\mathsf{DLQ}$ matches the complexity of Correlation Statistical Queries $(\mathsf{CSQ})$--potentially much worse than $\mathsf{SQ}$. But for other simple loss functions, including the $\ell_1$ loss, $\mathsf{DLQ}$ always achieves the same complexity as $\mathsf{SQ}$. We also provide evidence that $\mathsf{DLQ}$ can indeed capture learning with (stochastic) gradient descent by showing it correctly describes the complexity of learning with a two-layer neural network in the mean field regime and linear scaling.

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Abstract:We study the implicit bias of optimization in robust empirical risk minimization (robust ERM) and its connection with robust generalization. In classification settings under adversarial perturbations with linear models, we study what type of regularization should ideally be applied for a given perturbation set to improve (robust) generalization. We then show that the implicit bias of optimization in robust ERM can significantly affect the robustness of the model and identify two ways this can happen; either through the optimization algorithm or the architecture. We verify our predictions in simulations with synthetic data and experimentally study the importance of implicit bias in robust ERM with deep neural networks.

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Authors:Kumar Kshitij Patel, Margalit Glasgow, Ali Zindari, Lingxiao Wang, Sebastian U. Stich, Ziheng Cheng, Nirmit Joshi, Nathan Srebro

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Abstract:Local SGD is a popular optimization method in distributed learning, often outperforming other algorithms in practice, including mini-batch SGD. Despite this success, theoretically proving the dominance of local SGD in settings with reasonable data heterogeneity has been difficult, creating a significant gap between theory and practice. In this paper, we provide new lower bounds for local SGD under existing first-order data heterogeneity assumptions, showing that these assumptions are insufficient to prove the effectiveness of local update steps. Furthermore, under these same assumptions, we demonstrate the min-max optimality of accelerated mini-batch SGD, which fully resolves our understanding of distributed optimization for several problem classes. Our results emphasize the need for better models of data heterogeneity to understand the effectiveness of local SGD in practice. Towards this end, we consider higher-order smoothness and heterogeneity assumptions, providing new upper bounds that imply the dominance of local SGD over mini-batch SGD when data heterogeneity is low.

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Abstract:We study depth separation in infinite-width neural networks, where complexity is controlled by the overall squared $\ell_2$-norm of the weights (sum of squares of all weights in the network). Whereas previous depth separation results focused on separation in terms of width, such results do not give insight into whether depth determines if it is possible to learn a network that generalizes well even when the network width is unbounded. Here, we study separation in terms of the sample complexity required for learnability. Specifically, we show that there are functions that are learnable with sample complexity polynomial in the input dimension by norm-controlled depth-3 ReLU networks, yet are not learnable with sub-exponential sample complexity by norm-controlled depth-2 ReLU networks (with any value for the norm). We also show that a similar statement in the reverse direction is not possible: any function learnable with polynomial sample complexity by a norm-controlled depth-2 ReLU network with infinite width is also learnable with polynomial sample complexity by a norm-controlled depth-3 ReLU network.

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Abstract:Background. A main theoretical puzzle is why over-parameterized Neural Networks (NNs) generalize well when trained to zero loss (i.e., so they interpolate the data). Usually, the NN is trained with Stochastic Gradient Descent (SGD) or one of its variants. However, recent empirical work examined the generalization of a random NN that interpolates the data: the NN was sampled from a seemingly uniform prior over the parameters, conditioned on that the NN perfectly classifying the training set. Interestingly, such a NN sample typically generalized as well as SGD-trained NNs. Contributions. We prove that such a random NN interpolator typically generalizes well if there exists an underlying narrow ``teacher NN" that agrees with the labels. Specifically, we show that such a `flat' prior over the NN parametrization induces a rich prior over the NN functions, due to the redundancy in the NN structure. In particular, this creates a bias towards simpler functions, which require less relevant parameters to represent -- enabling learning with a sample complexity approximately proportional to the complexity of the teacher (roughly, the number of non-redundant parameters), rather than the student's.

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Authors:Cédric Gerbelot, Avetik Karagulyan, Stefani Karp, Kavya Ravichandran, Menachem Stern, Nathan Srebro

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Abstract:Although statistical learning theory provides a robust framework to understand supervised learning, many theoretical aspects of deep learning remain unclear, in particular how different architectures may lead to inductive bias when trained using gradient based methods. The goal of these lectures is to provide an overview of some of the main questions that arise when attempting to understand deep learning from a learning theory perspective. After a brief reminder on statistical learning theory and stochastic optimization, we discuss implicit bias in the context of benign overfitting. We then move to a general description of the mirror descent algorithm, showing how we may go back and forth between a parameter space and the corresponding function space for a given learning problem, as well as how the geometry of the learning problem may be represented by a metric tensor. Building on this framework, we provide a detailed study of the implicit bias of gradient descent on linear diagonal networks for various regression tasks, showing how the loss function, scale of parameters at initialization and depth of the network may lead to various forms of implicit bias, in particular transitioning between kernel or feature learning.

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Abstract:We study the problem of agnostic PAC reinforcement learning (RL): given a policy class $\Pi$, how many rounds of interaction with an unknown MDP (with a potentially large state and action space) are required to learn an $\epsilon$-suboptimal policy with respect to $\Pi$? Towards that end, we introduce a new complexity measure, called the \emph{spanning capacity}, that depends solely on the set $\Pi$ and is independent of the MDP dynamics. With a generative model, we show that for any policy class $\Pi$, bounded spanning capacity characterizes PAC learnability. However, for online RL, the situation is more subtle. We show there exists a policy class $\Pi$ with a bounded spanning capacity that requires a superpolynomial number of samples to learn. This reveals a surprising separation for agnostic learnability between generative access and online access models (as well as between deterministic/stochastic MDPs under online access). On the positive side, we identify an additional \emph{sunflower} structure, which in conjunction with bounded spanning capacity enables statistically efficient online RL via a new algorithm called POPLER, which takes inspiration from classical importance sampling methods as well as techniques for reachable-state identification and policy evaluation in reward-free exploration.

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Abstract:We study the asymptotic overfitting behavior of interpolation with minimum norm ($\ell_2$ of the weights) two-layer ReLU networks for noisy univariate regression. We show that overfitting is tempered for the $L_1$ loss, and any $L_p$ loss for $p<2$, but catastrophic for $p\geq 2$.

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Abstract:We establish generic uniform convergence guarantees for Gaussian data in terms of the Rademacher complexity of the hypothesis class and the Lipschitz constant of the square root of the scalar loss function. We show how these guarantees substantially generalize previous results based on smoothness (Lipschitz constant of the derivative), and allow us to handle the broader class of square-root-Lipschitz losses, which includes also non-smooth loss functions appropriate for studying phase retrieval and ReLU regression, as well as rederive and better understand "optimistic rate" and interpolation learning guarantees.

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Abstract: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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