Boundary thickness and robustness in learning models

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

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Yaoqing Yang, Rajiv Khanna, Yaodong Yu, Amir Gholami, Kurt Keutzer, Joseph E. Gonzalez, Kannan Ramchandran, Michael W. Mahoney


<p>Robustness of machine learning models to various adversarial and non-adversarial corruptions continues to be of interest. In this paper, we introduce the notion of the boundary thickness of a classifier, and we describe its connection with and usefulness for model robustness. Thick decision boundaries lead to improved performance, while thin decision boundaries lead to overfitting (e.g., measured by the robust generalization gap between training and testing) and lower robustness. We show that a thicker boundary helps improve robustness against adversarial examples (e.g., improving the robust test accuracy of adversarial training), as well as so-called out-of-distribution (OOD) transforms, and we show that many commonly-used regularization and data augmentation procedures can increase boundary thickness. On the theoretical side, we establish that maximizing boundary thickness is akin to minimizing the so-called mixup loss. Using these observations, we can show that noise-augmentation on mixup training further increases boundary thickness, thereby combating vulnerability to various forms of adversarial attacks and OOD transforms. We can also show that the performance improvement in several recent lines of work happens in conjunction with a thicker boundary.</p>