Network-to-Network Regularization: Enforcing Occam's Razor to Improve Generalization

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 34 pre-proceedings (NeurIPS 2021)

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Rohan Ghosh, Mehul Motani


What makes a classifier have the ability to generalize? There have been a lot of important attempts to address this question, but a clear answer is still elusive. Proponents of complexity theory find that the complexity of the classifier's function space is key to deciding generalization, whereas other recent work reveals that classifiers which extract invariant feature representations are likely to generalize better. Recent theoretical and empirical studies, however, have shown that even within a classifier's function space, there can be significant differences in the ability to generalize. Specifically, empirical studies have shown that among functions which have a good training data fit, functions with lower Kolmogorov complexity (KC) are likely to generalize better, while the opposite is true for functions of higher KC. Motivated by these findings, we propose, in this work, a novel measure of complexity called Kolmogorov Growth (KG), which we use to derive new generalization error bounds that only depend on the final choice of the classification function. Guided by the bounds, we propose a novel way of regularizing neural networks by constraining the network trajectory to remain in the low KG zone during training. Minimizing KG while learning is akin to applying the Occam's razor to neural networks. The proposed approach, called network-to-network regularization, leads to clear improvements in the generalization ability of classifiers. We verify this for three popular image datasets (MNIST, CIFAR-10, CIFAR-100) across varying training data sizes. Empirical studies find that conventional training of neural networks, unlike network-to-network regularization, leads to networks of high KG and lower test accuracies. Furthermore, we present the benefits of N2N regularization in the scenario where the training data labels are noisy. Using N2N regularization, we achieve competitive performance on MNIST, CIFAR-10 and CIFAR-100 datasets with corrupted training labels, significantly improving network performance compared to standard cross-entropy baselines in most cases. These findings illustrate the many benefits obtained from imposing a function complexity prior like Kolmogorov Growth during the training process.