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Jingfeng Wu, Peter L. Bartlett, Matus Telgarsky, Bin Yu

We consider gradient descent (GD) with a constant stepsize applied to logistic regression with linearly separable data, where the constant stepsize $\eta$ is so large that the loss initially oscillates. We show that GD exits this initial oscillatory phase rapidly -- in $\mathcal{O}(\eta)$ steps -- and subsequently achieves an $\tilde{\mathcal{O}}(1 / (\eta t) )$ convergence rate after $t$ additional steps. Our results imply that, given a budget of $T$ steps, GD can achieve an accelerated loss of $\tilde{\mathcal{O}}(1/T^2)$ with an aggressive stepsize $\eta:= \Theta( T)$, without any use of momentum or variable stepsize schedulers. Our proof technique is versatile and also handles general classification loss functions (where exponential tails are needed for the $\tilde{\mathcal{O}}(1/T^2)$ acceleration), nonlinear predictors in the neural tangent kernel regime, and online stochastic gradient descent (SGD) with a large stepsize, under suitable separability conditions.

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Saptarshi Chakraborty, Peter L. Bartlett

Variational Autoencoders (VAEs) have gained significant popularity among researchers as a powerful tool for understanding unknown distributions based on limited samples. This popularity stems partly from their impressive performance and partly from their ability to provide meaningful feature representations in the latent space. Wasserstein Autoencoders (WAEs), a variant of VAEs, aim to not only improve model efficiency but also interpretability. However, there has been limited focus on analyzing their statistical guarantees. The matter is further complicated by the fact that the data distributions to which WAEs are applied - such as natural images - are often presumed to possess an underlying low-dimensional structure within a high-dimensional feature space, which current theory does not adequately account for, rendering known bounds inefficient. To bridge the gap between the theory and practice of WAEs, in this paper, we show that WAEs can learn the data distributions when the network architectures are properly chosen. We show that the convergence rates of the expected excess risk in the number of samples for WAEs are independent of the high feature dimension, instead relying only on the intrinsic dimension of the data distribution.

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Ruiqi Zhang, Jingfeng Wu, Peter L. Bartlett

We study the \emph{in-context learning} (ICL) ability of a \emph{Linear Transformer Block} (LTB) that combines a linear attention component and a linear multi-layer perceptron (MLP) component. For ICL of linear regression with a Gaussian prior and a \emph{non-zero mean}, we show that LTB can achieve nearly Bayes optimal ICL risk. In contrast, using only linear attention must incur an irreducible additive approximation error. Furthermore, we establish a correspondence between LTB and one-step gradient descent estimators with learnable initialization ($\mathsf{GD}\text{-}\mathbf{\beta}$), in the sense that every $\mathsf{GD}\text{-}\mathbf{\beta}$ estimator can be implemented by an LTB estimator and every optimal LTB estimator that minimizes the in-class ICL risk is effectively a $\mathsf{GD}\text{-}\mathbf{\beta}$ estimator. Finally, we show that $\mathsf{GD}\text{-}\mathbf{\beta}$ estimators can be efficiently optimized with gradient flow, despite a non-convex training objective. Our results reveal that LTB achieves ICL by implementing $\mathsf{GD}\text{-}\mathbf{\beta}$, and they highlight the role of MLP layers in reducing approximation error.

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Saptarshi Chakraborty, Peter L. Bartlett

Despite the remarkable empirical successes of Generative Adversarial Networks (GANs), the theoretical guarantees for their statistical accuracy remain rather pessimistic. In particular, the data distributions on which GANs are applied, such as natural images, are often hypothesized to have an intrinsic low-dimensional structure in a typically high-dimensional feature space, but this is often not reflected in the derived rates in the state-of-the-art analyses. In this paper, we attempt to bridge the gap between the theory and practice of GANs and their bidirectional variant, Bi-directional GANs (BiGANs), by deriving statistical guarantees on the estimated densities in terms of the intrinsic dimension of the data and the latent space. We analytically show that if one has access to $n$ samples from the unknown target distribution and the network architectures are properly chosen, the expected Wasserstein-1 distance of the estimates from the target scales as $O\left( n^{-1/d_\mu } \right)$ for GANs and $O\left( n^{-1/(d_\mu+\ell)} \right)$ for BiGANs, where $d_\mu$ and $\ell$ are the upper Wasserstein-1 dimension of the data-distribution and latent-space dimension, respectively. The theoretical analyses not only suggest that these methods successfully avoid the curse of dimensionality, in the sense that the exponent of $n$ in the error rates does not depend on the data dimension but also serve to bridge the gap between the theoretical analyses of GANs and the known sharp rates from optimal transport literature. Additionally, we demonstrate that GANs can effectively achieve the minimax optimal rate even for non-smooth underlying distributions, with the use of larger generator networks.

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Jingfeng Wu, Difan Zou, Zixiang Chen, Vladimir Braverman, Quanquan Gu, Peter L. Bartlett

Transformers pretrained on diverse tasks exhibit remarkable in-context learning (ICL) capabilities, enabling them to solve unseen tasks solely based on input contexts without adjusting model parameters. In this paper, we study ICL in one of its simplest setups: pretraining a linearly parameterized single-layer linear attention model for linear regression with a Gaussian prior. We establish a statistical task complexity bound for the attention model pretraining, showing that effective pretraining only requires a small number of independent tasks. Furthermore, we prove that the pretrained model closely matches the Bayes optimal algorithm, i.e., optimally tuned ridge regression, by achieving nearly Bayes optimal risk on unseen tasks under a fixed context length. These theoretical findings complement prior experimental research and shed light on the statistical foundations of ICL.

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Philip M. Long, Peter L. Bartlett

Recent experiments have shown that, often, when training a neural network with gradient descent (GD) with a step size $\eta$, the operator norm of the Hessian of the loss grows until it approximately reaches $2/\eta$, after which it fluctuates around this value. The quantity $2/\eta$ has been called the "edge of stability" based on consideration of a local quadratic approximation of the loss. We perform a similar calculation to arrive at an "edge of stability" for Sharpness-Aware Minimization (SAM), a variant of GD which has been shown to improve its generalization. Unlike the case for GD, the resulting SAM-edge depends on the norm of the gradient. Using three deep learning training tasks, we see empirically that SAM operates on the edge of stability identified by this analysis.

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Ruiqi Zhang, Spencer Frei, Peter L. Bartlett

Attention-based neural networks such as transformers have demonstrated a remarkable ability to exhibit in-context learning (ICL): Given a short prompt sequence of tokens from an unseen task, they can formulate relevant per-token and next-token predictions without any parameter updates. By embedding a sequence of labeled training data and unlabeled test data as a prompt, this allows for transformers to behave like supervised learning algorithms. Indeed, recent work has shown that when training transformer architectures over random instances of linear regression problems, these models' predictions mimic those of ordinary least squares. Towards understanding the mechanisms underlying this phenomenon, we investigate the dynamics of ICL in transformers with a single linear self-attention layer trained by gradient flow on linear regression tasks. We show that despite non-convexity, gradient flow with a suitable random initialization finds a global minimum of the objective function. At this global minimum, when given a test prompt of labeled examples from a new prediction task, the transformer achieves prediction error competitive with the best linear predictor over the test prompt distribution. We additionally characterize the robustness of the trained transformer to a variety of distribution shifts and show that although a number of shifts are tolerated, shifts in the covariate distribution of the prompts are not. Motivated by this, we consider a generalized ICL setting where the covariate distributions can vary across prompts. We show that although gradient flow succeeds at finding a global minimum in this setting, the trained transformer is still brittle under mild covariate shifts.

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Peter L. Bartlett, Philip M. Long

We present a new general-purpose algorithm for learning classes of $[0,1]$-valued functions in a generalization of the prediction model, and prove a general upper bound on the expected absolute error of this algorithm in terms of a scale-sensitive generalization of the Vapnik dimension proposed by Alon, Ben-David, Cesa-Bianchi and Haussler. We give lower bounds implying that our upper bounds cannot be improved by more than a constant factor in general. We apply this result, together with techniques due to Haussler and to Benedek and Itai, to obtain new upper bounds on packing numbers in terms of this scale-sensitive notion of dimension. Using a different technique, we obtain new bounds on packing numbers in terms of Kearns and Schapire's fat-shattering function. We show how to apply both packing bounds to obtain improved general bounds on the sample complexity of agnostic learning. For each $\epsilon > 0$, we establish weaker sufficient and stronger necessary conditions for a class of $[0,1]$-valued functions to be agnostically learnable to within $\epsilon$, and to be an $\epsilon$-uniform Glivenko-Cantelli class. This is a manuscript that was accepted by JCSS, together with a correction.

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Spencer Frei, Gal Vardi, Peter L. Bartlett, Nathan Srebro

Linear classifiers and leaky ReLU networks trained by gradient flow on the logistic loss have an implicit bias towards solutions which satisfy the Karush--Kuhn--Tucker (KKT) conditions for margin maximization. In this work we establish a number of settings where the satisfaction of these KKT conditions implies benign overfitting in linear classifiers and in two-layer leaky ReLU networks: the estimators interpolate noisy training data and simultaneously generalize well to test data. The settings include variants of the noisy class-conditional Gaussians considered in previous work as well as new distributional settings where benign overfitting has not been previously observed. The key ingredient to our proof is the observation that when the training data is nearly-orthogonal, both linear classifiers and leaky ReLU networks satisfying the KKT conditions for their respective margin maximization problems behave like a nearly uniform average of the training examples.

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