Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 36 (NeurIPS 2023) Main Conference Track

*Jimmy Ba, Murat A. Erdogdu, Taiji Suzuki, Zhichao Wang, Denny Wu*

We consider the learning of a single-index target function $f_*: \mathbb{R}^d\to\mathbb{R}$ under spiked covariance data: $$f_*(\boldsymbol{x}) = \textstyle\sigma_*(\frac{1}{\sqrt{1+\theta}}\langle\boldsymbol{x},\boldsymbol{\mu}\rangle), ~~ \boldsymbol{x}\overset{\small\mathrm{i.i.d.}}{\sim}\mathcal{N}(0,\boldsymbol{I_d} + \theta\boldsymbol{\mu}\boldsymbol{\mu}^\top), ~~ \theta\asymp d^{\beta} \text{ for } \beta\in[0,1), $$ where the link function $\sigma_*:\mathbb{R}\to\mathbb{R}$ is a degree-$p$ polynomial with information exponent $k$ (defined as the lowest degree in the Hermite expansion of $\sigma_*$), and it depends on the projection of input $\boldsymbol{x}$ onto the spike (signal) direction $\boldsymbol{\mu}\in\mathbb{R}^d$. In the proportional asymptotic limit where the number of training examples $n$ and the dimensionality $d$ jointly diverge: $n,d\to\infty, n/d\to\psi\in(0,\infty)$, we ask the following question: how large should the spike magnitude $\theta$ (i.e., the strength of the low-dimensional component) be, in order for $(i)$ kernel methods, $(ii)$ neural networks optimized by gradient descent, to learn $f_*$? We show that for kernel ridge regression, $\beta\ge 1-\frac{1}{p}$ is both sufficient and necessary. Whereas for two-layer neural networks trained with gradient descent, $\beta>1-\frac{1}{k}$ suffices. Our results demonstrate that both kernel methods and neural networks benefit from low-dimensional structures in the data. Further, since $k\le p$ by definition, neural networks can adapt to such structures more effectively.

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