From Tempered to Benign Overfitting in ReLU Neural Networks

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

Bibtex Paper Supplemental


Guy Kornowski, Gilad Yehudai, Ohad Shamir


Overparameterized neural networks (NNs) are observed to generalize well even when trained to perfectly fit noisy data. This phenomenon motivated a large body of work on "benign overfitting", where interpolating predictors achieve near-optimal performance. Recently, it was conjectured and empirically observed that the behavior of NNs is often better described as "tempered overfitting", where the performance is non-optimal yet also non-trivial, and degrades as a function of the noise level. However, a theoretical justification of this claim for non-linear NNs has been lacking so far. In this work, we provide several results that aim at bridging these complementing views. We study a simple classification setting with 2-layer ReLU NNs, and prove that under various assumptions, the type of overfitting transitions from tempered in the extreme case of one-dimensional data, to benign in high dimensions. Thus, we show that the input dimension has a crucial role on the overfitting profile in this setting, which we also validate empirically for intermediate dimensions. Overall, our results shed light on the intricate connections between the dimension, sample size, architecture and training algorithm on the one hand, and the type of resulting overfitting on the other hand.