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Identifying good directions to escape the NTK regime and efficiently learn low-degree plus sparse polynomials
Eshaan Nichani · Yu Bai · Jason Lee

Thu Dec 01 02:00 PM -- 04:00 PM (PST) @ Hall J #921

A recent goal in the theory of deep learning is to identify how neural networks can escape the “lazy training,” or Neural Tangent Kernel (NTK) regime, where the network is coupled with its first order Taylor expansion at initialization. While the NTK is minimax optimal for learning dense polynomials (Ghorbani et al, 2021), it cannot learn features, and hence has poor sample complexity for learning many classes of functions including sparse polynomials. Recent works have thus aimed to identify settings where gradient based algorithms provably generalize better than the NTK. One such example is the “QuadNTK” approach of Bai & Lee (2020), which analyzes the second-order term in the Taylor expansion. Bai & Lee (2020) show that the second-order term can learn sparse polynomials efficiently; however, it sacrifices the ability to learn general dense polynomials.In this paper, we analyze how gradient descent on a two-layer neural network can escape the NTK regime by utilizing a spectral characterization of the NTK (Montanari & Zhong, 2020) and building on the QuadNTK approach. We first expand upon the spectral analysis to identify “good” directions in parameter space in which we can move without harming generalization. Next, we show that a wide two-layer neural network can jointly use the NTK and QuadNTK to fit target functions consisting of a dense low-degree term and a sparse high-degree term -- something neither the NTK nor the QuadNTK can do on their own. Finally, we construct a regularizer which encourages the parameter vector to move in the “good" directions, and show that gradient descent on the regularized loss will converge to a global minimizer, which also has low test error. This yields an end to end convergence and generalization guarantee with provable sample complexity improvement over both the NTK and QuadNTK on their own.

Author Information

Eshaan Nichani (Princeton University)
Yu Bai (Salesforce Research)
Jason Lee (University of Southern California)

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