Finite Versus Infinite Neural Networks: an Empirical Study

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 33 (NeurIPS 2020)

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Jaehoon Lee, Samuel Schoenholz, Jeffrey Pennington, Ben Adlam, Lechao Xiao, Roman Novak, Jascha Sohl-Dickstein


We perform a careful, thorough, and large scale empirical study of the correspondence between wide neural networks and kernel methods. By doing so, we resolve a variety of open questions related to the study of infinitely wide neural networks. Our experimental results include: kernel methods outperform fully-connected finite-width networks, but underperform convolutional finite width networks; neural network Gaussian process (NNGP) kernels frequently outperform neural tangent (NT) kernels; centered and ensembled finite networks have reduced posterior variance and behave more similarly to infinite networks; weight decay and the use of a large learning rate break the correspondence between finite and infinite networks; the NTK parameterization outperforms the standard parameterization for finite width networks; diagonal regularization of kernels acts similarly to early stopping; floating point precision limits kernel performance beyond a critical dataset size; regularized ZCA whitening improves accuracy; finite network performance depends non-monotonically on width in ways not captured by double descent phenomena; equivariance of CNNs is only beneficial for narrow networks far from the kernel regime. Our experiments additionally motivate an improved layer-wise scaling for weight decay which improves generalization in finite-width networks. Finally, we develop improved best practices for using NNGP and NT kernels for prediction, including a novel ensembling technique. Using these best practices we achieve state-of-the-art results on CIFAR-10 classification for kernels corresponding to each architecture class we consider.