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Authors:Nikhil Vyas, Alexander Atanasov, Blake Bordelon, Depen Morwani, Sabarish Sainathan, Cengiz Pehlevan

Abstract:We study the effect of width on the dynamics of feature-learning neural networks across a variety of architectures and datasets. Early in training, wide neural networks trained on online data have not only identical loss curves but also agree in their point-wise test predictions throughout training. For simple tasks such as CIFAR-5m this holds throughout training for networks of realistic widths. We also show that structural properties of the models, including internal representations, preactivation distributions, edge of stability phenomena, and large learning rate effects are consistent across large widths. This motivates the hypothesis that phenomena seen in realistic models can be captured by infinite-width, feature-learning limits. For harder tasks (such as ImageNet and language modeling), and later training times, finite-width deviations grow systematically. Two distinct effects cause these deviations across widths. First, the network output has initialization-dependent variance scaling inversely with width, which can be removed by ensembling networks. We observe, however, that ensembles of narrower networks perform worse than a single wide network. We call this the bias of narrower width. We conclude with a spectral perspective on the origin of this finite-width bias.

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Abstract:For small training set sizes $P$, the generalization error of wide neural networks is well-approximated by the error of an infinite width neural network (NN), either in the kernel or mean-field/feature-learning regime. However, after a critical sample size $P^*$, we empirically find the finite-width network generalization becomes worse than that of the infinite width network. In this work, we empirically study the transition from infinite-width behavior to this variance limited regime as a function of sample size $P$ and network width $N$. We find that finite-size effects can become relevant for very small dataset sizes on the order of $P^* \sim \sqrt{N}$ for polynomial regression with ReLU networks. We discuss the source of these effects using an argument based on the variance of the NN's final neural tangent kernel (NTK). This transition can be pushed to larger $P$ by enhancing feature learning or by ensemble averaging the networks. We find that the learning curve for regression with the final NTK is an accurate approximation of the NN learning curve. Using this, we provide a toy model which also exhibits $P^* \sim \sqrt{N}$ scaling and has $P$-dependent benefits from feature learning.

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