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Workshop: OPT 2023: Optimization for Machine Learning

Escaping mediocrity: how two-layer networks learn hard generalized linear models

Luca Arnaboldi · Florent Krzakala · Bruno Loureiro · Ludovic Stephan

Abstract: This study explores the sample complexity for two-layer neural networks to learn a generalized linear target function under Stochastic Gradient Descent (SGD), focusing on the challenging regime where many flat directions are present at initialization. It is well-established that in this scenario $n=O(d\log d)$ samples are typically needed. However, we provide precise results concerning the pre-factors in high-dimensional contexts and for varying widths. Notably, our findings suggest that overparameterization can only enhance convergence by a constant factor within this problem class. These insights are grounded in the reduction of SGD dynamics to a stochastic process in lower dimensions, where escaping mediocrity equates to calculating an exit time. Yet, we demonstrate that a deterministic approximation of this process adequately represents the escape time, implying that the role of stochasticity may be minimal in this scenario.

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