The Comparative Power of ReLU Networks and Polynomial Kernels in the Presence of Sparse Latent Structure


Sep 27, 2018 ICLR 2019 Conference Blind Submission readers: everyone Show Bibtex
  • Abstract: There has been a large amount of interest, both in the past and particularly recently, into the relative advantage of different families of universal function approximators, for instance neural networks, polynomials, rational functions, etc. However, current research has focused almost exclusively on understanding this problem in a worst case setting: e.g. characterizing the best L1 or L_{infty} approximation in a box (or sometimes, even under an adversarially constructed data distribution.) In this setting many classical tools from approximation theory can be effectively used. However, in typical applications we expect data to be high dimensional, but structured -- so, it would only be important to approximate the desired function well on the relevant part of its domain, e.g. a small manifold on which real input data actually lies. Moreover, even within this domain the desired quality of approximation may not be uniform; for instance in classification problems, the approximation needs to be more accurate near the decision boundary. These issues, to the best of our knowledge, have remain unexplored until now. With this in mind, we analyze the performance of neural networks and polynomial kernels in a natural regression setting where the data enjoys sparse latent structure, and the labels depend in a simple way on the latent variables. We give an almost-tight theoretical analysis of the performance of both neural networks and polynomials for this problem, as well as verify our theory with simulations. Our results both involve new (complex-analytic) techniques, which may be of independent interest, and show substantial qualitative differences with what is known in the worst-case setting.
  • Keywords: theory, representational power, universal approximators, polynomial kernels, latent sparsity, beyond worst case, separation result
  • TL;DR: Beyond-worst-case analysis of the representational power of ReLU nets & polynomial kernels -- in particular in the presence of sparse latent structure.
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