On Learning Over-parameterized Neural Networks: A Functional Approximation Perspective

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

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Lili Su, Pengkun Yang


We consider training over-parameterized two-layer neural networks with Rectified Linear Unit (ReLU) using gradient descent (GD) method. Inspired by a recent line of work, we study the evolutions of network prediction errors across GD iterations, which can be neatly described in a matrix form. When the network is sufficiently over-parameterized, these matrices individually approximate {\em an} integral operator which is determined by the feature vector distribution $\rho$ only. Consequently, GD method can be viewed as {\em approximately} applying the powers of this integral operator on the underlying/target function $f^*$ that generates the responses/labels. We show that if $f^*$ admits a low-rank approximation with respect to the eigenspaces of this integral operator, then the empirical risk decreases to this low rank approximation error at a linear rate which is determined by $f^*$ and $\rho$ only, i.e., the rate is independent of the sample size $n$. Furthermore, if $f^*$ has zero low-rank approximation error, then, as long as the width of the neural network is $\Omega(n\log n)$, the empirical risk decreases to $\Theta(1/\sqrt{n})$. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first result showing the sufficiency of nearly-linear network over-parameterization. We provide an application of our general results to the setting where $\rho$ is the uniform distribution on the spheres and $f^*$ is a polynomial. Throughout this paper, we consider the scenario where the input dimension $d$ is fixed.