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Learning single-index models with shallow neural networks

Alberto Bietti · Joan Bruna · Clayton Sanford · Min Jae Song

Hall J (level 1) #508

Keywords: [ landscape analysis ] [ single-index models ] [ random feature approximation ] [ shallow neural networks ] [ Gradient Descent ]


Single-index models are a class of functions given by an unknown univariate ``link'' function applied to an unknown one-dimensional projection of the input. These models are particularly relevant in high dimension, when the data might present low-dimensional structure that learning algorithms should adapt to. While several statistical aspects of this model, such as the sample complexity of recovering the relevant (one-dimensional) subspace, are well-understood, they rely on tailored algorithms that exploit the specific structure of the target function. In this work, we introduce a natural class of shallow neural networks and study its ability to learn single-index models via gradient flow. More precisely, we consider shallow networks in which biases of the neurons are frozen at random initialization. We show that the corresponding optimization landscape is benign, which in turn leads to generalization guarantees that match the near-optimal sample complexity of dedicated semi-parametric methods.

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