For Valid Generalization the Size of the Weights is More Important than the Size of the Network

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 9 (NIPS 1996)

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Peter Bartlett


This paper shows that if a large neural network is used for a pattern classification problem, and the learning algorithm finds a network with small weights that has small squared error on the training patterns, then the generalization performance depends on the size of the weights rather than the number of weights. More specifi(cid:173) cally, consider an i-layer feed-forward network of sigmoid units, in which the sum of the magnitudes of the weights associated with each unit is bounded by A. The misclassification probability con(cid:173) verges to an error estimate (that is closely related to squared error on the training set) at rate O((cA)l(l+1)/2J(log n)jm) ignoring log factors, where m is the number of training patterns, n is the input dimension, and c is a constant. This may explain the gen(cid:173) eralization performance of neural networks, particularly when the number of training examples is considerably smaller than the num(cid:173) ber of weights. It also supports heuristics (such as weight decay and early stopping) that attempt to keep the weights small during training.