On the non-universality of deep learning: quantifying the cost of symmetry

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 35 (NeurIPS 2022) Main Conference Track

Bibtex Paper Supplemental


Emmanuel Abbe, Enric Boix-Adsera


We prove limitations on what neural networks trained by noisy gradient descent (GD) can efficiently learn. Our results apply whenever GD training is equivariant, which holds for many standard architectures and initializations. As applications, (i) we characterize the functions that fully-connected networks can weak-learn on the binary hypercube and unit sphere, demonstrating that depth-2 is as powerful as any other depth for this task; (ii) we extend the merged-staircase necessity result for learning with latent low-dimensional structure [ABM22] to beyond the mean-field regime. Under cryptographic assumptions, we also show hardness results for learning with fully-connected networks trained by stochastic gradient descent (SGD).