Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Neural Tangent Kernels and Theoretical Foundations of Deep Learning

A colleague recommended this paper to me recently. See also earlier post Gradient Descent Models Are Kernel Machines.
Neural Tangent Kernel: Convergence and Generalization in Neural Networks 
Arthur Jacot, Franck Gabriel, Clément Hongler 
At initialization, artificial neural networks (ANNs) are equivalent to Gaussian processes in the infinite-width limit, thus connecting them to kernel methods. We prove that the evolution of an ANN during training can also be described by a kernel: during gradient descent on the parameters of an ANN, the network function fθ (which maps input vectors to output vectors) follows the kernel gradient of the functional cost (which is convex, in contrast to the parameter cost) w.r.t. a new kernel: the Neural Tangent Kernel (NTK). This kernel is central to describe the generalization features of ANNs. While the NTK is random at initialization and varies during training, in the infinite-width limit it converges to an explicit limiting kernel and it stays constant during training. This makes it possible to study the training of ANNs in function space instead of parameter space. Convergence of the training can then be related to the positive-definiteness of the limiting NTK. We prove the positive-definiteness of the limiting NTK when the data is supported on the sphere and the non-linearity is non-polynomial. We then focus on the setting of least-squares regression and show that in the infinite-width limit, the network function fθ follows a linear differential equation during training. The convergence is fastest along the largest kernel principal components of the input data with respect to the NTK, hence suggesting a theoretical motivation for early stopping. Finally we study the NTK numerically, observe its behavior for wide networks, and compare it to the infinite-width limit.
The results are remarkably well summarized in the wikipedia entry on Neural Tangent Kernels:

For most common neural network architectures, in the limit of large layer width the NTK becomes constant. This enables simple closed form statements to be made about neural network predictions, training dynamics, generalization, and loss surfaces. For example, it guarantees that wide enough ANNs converge to a global minimum when trained to minimize an empirical loss. ...

An Artificial Neural Network (ANN) with scalar output consists in a family of functions  parametrized by a vector of parameters .

The Neural Tangent Kernel (NTK) is a kernel  defined by

In the language of kernel methods, the NTK  is the kernel associated with the feature map  .

For a dataset  with scalar labels  and a loss function , the associated empirical loss, defined on functions , is given by

When training the ANN  is trained to fit the dataset (i.e. minimize ) via continuous-time gradient descent, the parameters  evolve through the ordinary differential equation:

During training the ANN output function follows an evolution differential equation given in terms of the NTK:

This equation shows how the NTK drives the dynamics of  in the space of functions  during training.

This is a very brief (3 minute) summary by the first author:



This 15 minute IAS talk gives a nice overview of the results, and their relation to fundamental questions (both empirical and theoretical) in deep learning. Longer (30m) version: On the Connection between Neural Networks and Kernels: a Modern Perspective.  




I hope to find time to explore this in more depth. Large width seems to provide a limiting case (analogous to the large-N limit in gauge theory) in which rigorous results about deep learning can be proved.

Some naive questions:

What is the expansion parameter of the finite width expansion?

What role does concentration of measure play in the results? (See 30m video linked above.)

Simplification seems to be a consequence of overparametrization. But the proof method seems to apply to a regularized (but still convex, e.g., using L1 penalization) loss function that imposes sparsity. It would be interesting to examine this specific case in more detail.

Notes to self:

The overparametrized (width ~ w^2) network starts in a random state and by concentration of measure this initial kernel K is just the expectation, which is the NTK. Because of the large number of parameters the effect of training (i.e., gradient descent) on any individual parameter is 1/w, and the change in the eigenvalue spectrum of K is also 1/w. It can be shown that the eigenvalue spectrum is positive and bounded away from zero, and this property does not change under training. Also, the evolution of f is linear in K up to corrections with are suppressed by 1/w. Hence evolution follows a convex trajectory and can achieve global minimum loss in a finite (polynomial) time. 

The parametric 1/w expansion may depend on quantities such as the smallest NTK eigenvalue k: the proof might require  k >> 1/w  or  wk large.

In the large w limit the function space has such high dimensionality that any typical initial f is close (within a ball of radius 1/w?) to an optimal f. 

These properties depend on specific choice of loss function.

[ Strangely, this post was flagged for Blogger review for violating their virus and malware policy (!?!) and so disappeared temporarily. After further review by their content team the post has been restored. Thanks to readers who pointed out that I could also have recovered it from the Internet Archive. ]

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