On the spectral bias of two-layer linear networks

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

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Aditya Vardhan Varre, Maria-Luiza Vladarean, Loucas PILLAUD-VIVIEN, Nicolas Flammarion


This paper studies the behaviour of two-layer fully connected networks with linear activations trained with gradient flow on the square loss. We show how the optimization process carries an implicit bias on the parameters that depends on the scale of its initialization. The main result of the paper is a variational characterization of the loss minimizers retrieved by the gradient flow for a specific initialization shape. This characterization reveals that, in the small scale initialization regime, the linear neural network's hidden layer is biased toward having a low-rank structure. To complement our results, we showcase a hidden mirror flow that tracks the dynamics of the singular values of the weights matrices and describe their time evolution. We support our findings with numerical experiments illustrating the phenomena.