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Abstract:We study the impact of the batch size $n_b$ on the iteration time $T$ of training two-layer neural networks with one-pass stochastic gradient descent (SGD) on multi-index target functions of isotropic covariates. We characterize the optimal batch size minimizing the iteration time as a function of the hardness of the target, as characterized by the information exponents. We show that performing gradient updates with large batches $n_b \lesssim d^{\frac{\ell}{2}}$ minimizes the training time without changing the total sample complexity, where $\ell$ is the information exponent of the target to be learned \citep{arous2021online} and $d$ is the input dimension. However, larger batch sizes than $n_b \gg d^{\frac{\ell}{2}}$ are detrimental for improving the time complexity of SGD. We provably overcome this fundamental limitation via a different training protocol, \textit{Correlation loss SGD}, which suppresses the auto-correlation terms in the loss function. We show that one can track the training progress by a system of low-dimensional ordinary differential equations (ODEs). Finally, we validate our theoretical results with numerical experiments.

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Abstract:Neural networks can identify low-dimensional relevant structures within high-dimensional noisy data, yet our mathematical understanding of how they do so remains scarce. Here, we investigate the training dynamics of two-layer shallow neural networks trained with gradient-based algorithms, and discuss how they learn pertinent features in multi-index models, that is target functions with low-dimensional relevant directions. In the high-dimensional regime, where the input dimension $d$ diverges, we show that a simple modification of the idealized single-pass gradient descent training scenario, where data can now be repeated or iterated upon twice, drastically improves its computational efficiency. In particular, it surpasses the limitations previously believed to be dictated by the Information and Leap exponents associated with the target function to be learned. Our results highlight the ability of networks to learn relevant structures from data alone without any pre-processing. More precisely, we show that (almost) all directions are learned with at most $O(d \log d)$ steps. Among the exceptions is a set of hard functions that includes sparse parities. In the presence of coupling between directions, however, these can be learned sequentially through a hierarchical mechanism that generalizes the notion of staircase functions. Our results are proven by a rigorous study of the evolution of the relevant statistics for high-dimensional dynamics.

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Authors:Emanuele Troiani, Yatin Dandi, Leonardo Defilippis, Lenka Zdeborová, Bruno Loureiro, Florent Krzakala

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Abstract:Multi-index models -- functions which only depend on the covariates through a non-linear transformation of their projection on a subspace -- are a useful benchmark for investigating feature learning with neural networks. This paper examines the theoretical boundaries of learnability in this hypothesis class, focusing particularly on the minimum sample complexity required for weakly recovering their low-dimensional structure with first-order iterative algorithms, in the high-dimensional regime where the number of samples is $n=\alpha d$ is proportional to the covariate dimension $d$. Our findings unfold in three parts: (i) first, we identify under which conditions a \textit{trivial subspace} can be learned with a single step of a first-order algorithm for any $\alpha\!>\!0$; (ii) second, in the case where the trivial subspace is empty, we provide necessary and sufficient conditions for the existence of an {\it easy subspace} consisting of directions that can be learned only above a certain sample complexity $\alpha\!>\!\alpha_c$. The critical threshold $\alpha_{c}$ marks the presence of a computational phase transition, in the sense that no efficient iterative algorithm can succeed for $\alpha\!<\!\alpha_c$. In a limited but interesting set of really hard directions -- akin to the parity problem -- $\alpha_c$ is found to diverge. Finally, (iii) we demonstrate that interactions between different directions can result in an intricate hierarchical learning phenomenon, where some directions can be learned sequentially when coupled to easier ones. Our analytical approach is built on the optimality of approximate message-passing algorithms among first-order iterative methods, delineating the fundamental learnability limit across a broad spectrum of algorithms, including neural networks trained with gradient descent.

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Authors:Hugo Cui, Luca Pesce, Yatin Dandi, Florent Krzakala, Yue M. Lu, Lenka Zdeborová, Bruno Loureiro

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Abstract:In this manuscript we investigate the problem of how two-layer neural networks learn features from data, and improve over the kernel regime, after being trained with a single gradient descent step. Leveraging a connection from (Ba et al., 2022) with a non-linear spiked matrix model and recent progress on Gaussian universality (Dandi et al., 2023), we provide an exact asymptotic description of the generalization error in the high-dimensional limit where the number of samples $n$, the width $p$ and the input dimension $d$ grow at a proportional rate. We characterize exactly how adapting to the data is crucial for the network to efficiently learn non-linear functions in the direction of the gradient -- where at initialization it can only express linear functions in this regime. To our knowledge, our results provides the first tight description of the impact of feature learning in the generalization of two-layer neural networks in the large learning rate regime $\eta=\Theta_{d}(d)$, beyond perturbative finite width corrections of the conjugate and neural tangent kernels.

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Authors:Yatin Dandi, Emanuele Troiani, Luca Arnaboldi, Luca Pesce, Lenka Zdeborová, Florent Krzakala

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Abstract:We investigate the training dynamics of two-layer neural networks when learning multi-index target functions. We focus on multi-pass gradient descent (GD) that reuses the batches multiple times and show that it significantly changes the conclusion about which functions are learnable compared to single-pass gradient descent. In particular, multi-pass GD with finite stepsize is found to overcome the limitations of gradient flow and single-pass GD given by the information exponent (Ben Arous et al., 2021) and leap exponent (Abbe et al., 2023) of the target function. We show that upon re-using batches, the network achieves in just two time steps an overlap with the target subspace even for functions not satisfying the staircase property (Abbe et al., 2021). We characterize the (broad) class of functions efficiently learned in finite time. The proof of our results is based on the analysis of the Dynamical Mean-Field Theory (DMFT). We further provide a closed-form description of the dynamical process of the low-dimensional projections of the weights, and numerical experiments illustrating the theory.

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Abstract:The rapid progress in machine learning in recent years has been based on a highly productive connection to gradient-based optimization. Further progress hinges in part on a shift in focus from pattern recognition to decision-making and multi-agent problems. In these broader settings, new mathematical challenges emerge that involve equilibria and game theory instead of optima. Gradient-based methods remain essential -- given the high dimensionality and large scale of machine-learning problems -- but simple gradient descent is no longer the point of departure for algorithm design. We provide a gentle introduction to a broader framework for gradient-based algorithms in machine learning, beginning with saddle points and monotone games, and proceeding to general variational inequalities. While we provide convergence proofs for several of the algorithms that we present, our main focus is that of providing motivation and intuition.

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Abstract:Recent years witnessed the development of powerful generative models based on flows, diffusion or autoregressive neural networks, achieving remarkable success in generating data from examples with applications in a broad range of areas. A theoretical analysis of the performance and understanding of the limitations of these methods remain, however, challenging. In this paper, we undertake a step in this direction by analysing the efficiency of sampling by these methods on a class of problems with a known probability distribution and comparing it with the sampling performance of more traditional methods such as the Monte Carlo Markov chain and Langevin dynamics. We focus on a class of probability distribution widely studied in the statistical physics of disordered systems that relate to spin glasses, statistical inference and constraint satisfaction problems. We leverage the fact that sampling via flow-based, diffusion-based or autoregressive networks methods can be equivalently mapped to the analysis of a Bayes optimal denoising of a modified probability measure. Our findings demonstrate that these methods encounter difficulties in sampling stemming from the presence of a first-order phase transition along the algorithm's denoising path. Our conclusions go both ways: we identify regions of parameters where these methods are unable to sample efficiently, while that is possible using standard Monte Carlo or Langevin approaches. We also identify regions where the opposite happens: standard approaches are inefficient while the discussed generative methods work well.

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Abstract:We study the training dynamics of shallow neural networks, investigating the conditions under which a limited number of large batch gradient descent steps can facilitate feature learning beyond the kernel regime. We compare the influence of batch size and that of multiple (but finitely many) steps. Our analysis of a single-step process reveals that while a batch size of $n = O(d)$ enables feature learning, it is only adequate for learning a single direction, or a single-index model. In contrast, $n = O(d^2)$ is essential for learning multiple directions and specialization. Moreover, we demonstrate that ``hard'' directions, which lack the first $\ell$ Hermite coefficients, remain unobserved and require a batch size of $n = O(d^\ell)$ for being captured by gradient descent. Upon iterating a few steps, the scenario changes: a batch-size of $n = O(d)$ is enough to learn new target directions spanning the subspace linearly connected in the Hermite basis to the previously learned directions, thereby a staircase property. Our analysis utilizes a blend of techniques related to concentration, projection-based conditioning, and Gaussian equivalence that are of independent interest. By determining the conditions necessary for learning and specialization, our results highlight the interaction between batch size and number of iterations, and lead to a hierarchical depiction where learning performance exhibits a stairway to accuracy over time and batch size, shedding new light on feature learning in neural networks.

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Abstract:Let $(x_{i}, y_{i})_{i=1,\dots,n}$ denote independent samples from a general mixture distribution $\sum_{c\in\mathcal{C}}\rho_{c}P_{c}^{x}$, and consider the hypothesis class of generalized linear models $\hat{y} = F(\Theta^{\top}x)$. In this work, we investigate the asymptotic joint statistics of the family of generalized linear estimators $(\Theta_{1}, \dots, \Theta_{M})$ obtained either from (a) minimizing an empirical risk $\hat{R}_{n}(\Theta;X,y)$ or (b) sampling from the associated Gibbs measure $\exp(-\beta n \hat{R}_{n}(\Theta;X,y))$. Our main contribution is to characterize under which conditions the asymptotic joint statistics of this family depends (on a weak sense) only on the means and covariances of the class conditional features distribution $P_{c}^{x}$. In particular, this allow us to prove the universality of different quantities of interest, such as the training and generalization errors, redeeming a recent line of work in high-dimensional statistics working under the Gaussian mixture hypothesis. Finally, we discuss the applications of our results to different machine learning tasks of interest, such as ensembling and uncertainty

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Abstract:Decentralized learning provides an effective framework to train machine learning models with data distributed over arbitrary communication graphs. However, most existing approaches toward decentralized learning disregard the interaction between data heterogeneity and graph topology. In this paper, we characterize the dependence of convergence on the relationship between the mixing weights of the graph and the data heterogeneity across nodes. We propose a metric that quantifies the ability of a graph to mix the current gradients. We further prove that the metric controls the convergence rate, particularly in settings where the heterogeneity across nodes dominates the stochasticity between updates for a given node. Motivated by our analysis, we propose an approach that periodically and efficiently optimizes the metric using standard convex constrained optimization and sketching techniques. Through comprehensive experiments on standard computer vision and NLP benchmarks, we show that our approach leads to improvement in test performance for a wide range of tasks.

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