Small ReLU networks are powerful memorizers: a tight analysis of memorization capacity

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 32 (NeurIPS 2019)

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Chulhee Yun, Suvrit Sra, Ali Jadbabaie


We study finite sample expressivity, i.e., memorization power of ReLU networks. Recent results require $N$ hidden nodes to memorize/interpolate arbitrary $N$ data points. In contrast, by exploiting depth, we show that 3-layer ReLU networks with $\Omega(\sqrt{N})$ hidden nodes can perfectly memorize most datasets with $N$ points. We also prove that width $\Theta(\sqrt{N})$ is necessary and sufficient for memorizing $N$ data points, proving tight bounds on memorization capacity. The sufficiency result can be extended to deeper networks; we show that an $L$-layer network with $W$ parameters in the hidden layers can memorize $N$ data points if $W = \Omega(N)$. Combined with a recent upper bound $O(WL\log W)$ on VC dimension, our construction is nearly tight for any fixed $L$. Subsequently, we analyze memorization capacity of residual networks under a general position assumption; we prove results that substantially reduce the known requirement of $N$ hidden nodes. Finally, we study the dynamics of stochastic gradient descent (SGD), and show that when initialized near a memorizing global minimum of the empirical risk, SGD quickly finds a nearby point with much smaller empirical risk.