A General Theory of Correct, Incorrect, and Extrinsic Equivariance

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

Bibtex Paper


Dian Wang, Xupeng Zhu, Jung Yeon Park, Mingxi Jia, Guanang Su, Robert Platt, Robin Walters


Although equivariant machine learning has proven effective at many tasks, success depends heavily on the assumption that the ground truth function is symmetric over the entire domain matching the symmetry in an equivariant neural network. A missing piece in the equivariant learning literature is the analysis of equivariant networks when symmetry exists only partially in the domain. In this work, we present a general theory for such a situation. We propose pointwise definitions of correct, incorrect, and extrinsic equivariance, which allow us to quantify continuously the degree of each type of equivariance a function displays. We then study the impact of various degrees of incorrect or extrinsic symmetry on model error. We prove error lower bounds for invariant or equivariant networks in classification or regression settings with partially incorrect symmetry. We also analyze the potentially harmful effects of extrinsic equivariance. Experiments validate these results in three different environments.