Keywords: [ robustness ] [ generalization error ] [ Neural Tangent Kernel ] [ square loss ] [ Nonparametric classification ] [ calibration error ]
Deep learning has achieved many breakthroughs in modern classification tasks. Numerous architectures have been proposed for different data structures but when it comes to the loss function, the cross-entropy loss is the predominant choice. Recently, several alternative losses have seen revived interests for deep classifiers. In particular, empirical evidence seems to promote square loss but a theoretical justification is still lacking. In this work, we contribute to the theoretical understanding of square loss in classification by systematically investigating how it performs for overparametrized neural networks in the neural tangent kernel (NTK) regime. Interesting properties regarding the generalization error, robustness, and calibration error are revealed. We consider two cases, according to whether classes are separable or not. In the general non-separable case, fast convergence rate is established for both misclassification rate and calibration error. When classes are separable, the misclassification rate improves to be exponentially fast. Further, the resulting margin is proven to be lower bounded away from zero, providing theoretical guarantees for robustness. We expect our findings to hold beyond the NTK regime and translate to practical settings. To this end, we conduct extensive empirical studies on practical neural networks, demonstrating the effectiveness of square loss in both synthetic low-dimensional data and real image data. Comparing to cross-entropy, square loss has comparable generalization error but noticeable advantages in robustness and model calibration.