Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 33 pre-proceedings (NeurIPS 2020)

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*Spencer Frei, Yuan Cao, Quanquan Gu*

We consider the problem of learning the best-fitting single neuron as measured by the expected square loss $\E_{(x,y)\sim \mathcal{D}}[(\sigma(w^\top x)-y)^2]$ over some unknown joint distribution $\mathcal{D}$ by using gradient descent to minimize the empirical risk induced by a set of i.i.d. samples $S\sim \mathcal{D}^n$. The activation function $\sigma$ is an arbitrary Lipschitz and non-decreasing function, making the optimization problem nonconvex and nonsmooth in general, and covers typical neural network activation functions and inverse link functions in the generalized linear model setting. In the agnostic PAC learning setting, where no assumption on the relationship between the labels $y$ and the input $x$ is made, if the optimal population risk is $\mathsf{OPT}$, we show that gradient descent achieves population risk $O(\mathsf{OPT})+\eps$ in polynomial time and sample complexity when $\sigma$ is strictly increasing. For the ReLU activation, our population risk guarantee is $O(\mathsf{OPT}^{1/2})+\eps$. When labels take the form $y = \sigma(v^\top x) + \xi$ for zero-mean sub-Gaussian noise $\xi$, we show that the population risk guarantees for gradient descent improve to $\mathsf{OPT} + \eps$. Our sample complexity and runtime guarantees are (almost) dimension independent, and when $\sigma$ is strictly increasing, require no distributional assumptions beyond boundedness. For ReLU, we show the same results under a nondegeneracy assumption for the marginal distribution of the input.

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