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A Theoretical Analysis of Fine-tuning with Linear Teachers

Gal Shachaf · Alon Brutzkus · Amir Globerson

Keywords: [ Theory ] [ Deep Learning ] [ Transfer Learning ]


Fine-tuning is a common practice in deep learning, achieving excellent generalization results on downstream tasks using relatively little training data. Although widely used in practice, it is not well understood theoretically. Here we analyze the sample complexity of this scheme for regression with linear teachers in several settings. Intuitively, the success of fine-tuning depends on the similarity between the source tasks and the target task. But what is the right way of measuring this similarity? We show that the relevant measure has to do with the relation between the source task, the target task and the covariance structure of the target data. In the setting of linear regression, we show that under realistic settings there can be substantial sample complexity reduction when the above measure is low. For deep linear regression, we propose a novel result regarding the inductive bias of gradient-based training when the network is initialized with pretrained weights. Using this result we show that the similarity measure for this setting is also affected by the depth of the network. We conclude with results on shallow ReLU models, and analyze the dependence of sample complexity there on source and target tasks. We empirically demonstrate our results for both synthetic and realistic data.

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