Adversarial Examples Might be Avoidable: The Role of Data Concentration in Adversarial Robustness

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 36 (NeurIPS 2023) Main Conference Track

Bibtex Paper


Ambar Pal, Jeremias Sulam, Rene Vidal


The susceptibility of modern machine learning classifiers to adversarial examples has motivated theoretical results suggesting that these might be unavoidable. However, these results can be too general to be applicable to natural data distributions. Indeed, humans are quite robust for tasks involving vision. This apparent conflict motivates a deeper dive into the question: Are adversarial examples truly unavoidable? In this work, we theoretically demonstrate that a key property of the data distribution -- concentration on small-volume subsets of the input space -- determines whether a robust classifier exists. We further demonstrate that, for a data distribution concentrated on a union of low-dimensional linear subspaces, utilizing structure in data naturally leads to classifiers that enjoy data-dependent polyhedral robustness guarantees, improving upon methods for provable certification in certain regimes.