Learning (Very) Simple Generative Models Is Hard

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

Bibtex Paper Supplemental


Sitan Chen, Jerry Li, Yuanzhi Li


Motivated by the recent empirical successes of deep generative models, we study the computational complexity of the following unsupervised learning problem. For an unknown neural network $F:\mathbb{R}^d\to\mathbb{R}^{d'}$, let $D$ be the distribution over $\mathbb{R}^{d'}$ given by pushing the standard Gaussian $\mathcal{N}(0,\textrm{Id}_d)$ through $F$. Given i.i.d. samples from $D$, the goal is to output *any* distribution close to $D$ in statistical distance. We show under the statistical query (SQ) model that no polynomial-time algorithm can solve this problem even when the output coordinates of $F$ are one-hidden-layer ReLU networks with $\log(d)$ neurons. Previously, the best lower bounds for this problem simply followed from lower bounds for *supervised learning* and required at least two hidden layers and $\textrm{poly}(d)$ neurons [Daniely-Vardi '21, Chen-Gollakota-Klivans-Meka '22]. The key ingredient in our proof is an ODE-based construction of a compactly supported, piecewise-linear function $f$ with polynomially-bounded slopes such that the pushforward of $\mathcal{N}(0,1)$ under $f$ matches all low-degree moments of $\mathcal{N}(0,1)$.