Learning with convolution and pooling operations in kernel methods

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 35 (NeurIPS 2022) Main Conference Track

Bibtex Paper Supplemental


Theodor Misiakiewicz, Song Mei


Recent empirical work has shown that hierarchical convolutional kernels inspired by convolutional neural networks (CNNs) significantly improve the performance of kernel methods in image classification tasks. A widely accepted explanation for their success is that these architectures encode hypothesis classes that are suitable for natural images. However, understanding the precise interplay between approximation and generalization in convolutional architectures remains a challenge. In this paper, we consider the stylized setting of covariates (image pixels) uniformly distributed on the hypercube, and characterize exactly the RKHS of kernels composed of single layers of convolution, pooling, and downsampling operations. We use this characterization to compute sharp asymptotics of the generalization error for any given function in high-dimension. In particular, we quantify the gain in sample complexity brought by enforcing locality with the convolution operation and approximate translation invariance with average pooling. Notably, these results provide a precise description of how convolution and pooling operations trade off approximation with generalization power in one layer convolutional kernels.