Size and Depth Separation in Approximating Natural Functions with Neural Networks

Gal Vardi , Daniel Reichman , Toniann Pitassi , Ohad Shamir

[Proceedings link] [PDF]

Session: Neural Networks/Deep Learning (A)

Session Chair: Quanquan Gu

Poster: Poster Session 2

Abstract: When studying the expressive power of neural networks, a main challenge is to understand how the size and depth of the network affect its ability to approximate real functions. However, not all functions are interesting from a practical viewpoint: functions of interest usually have a polynomially-bounded Lipschitz constant, and can be computed efficiently. We call functions that satisfy these conditions ``benign", and explore the benefits of size and depth for approximation of benign functions with ReLU networks. As we show, this problem is more challenging than the corresponding problem for non-benign functions. We give complexity-theoretic barriers to showing depth-lower-bounds: Proving existence of a benign function that cannot be approximated by polynomial-sized networks of depth $4$ would settle longstanding open problems in computational complexity. It implies that beyond depth $4$ there is a barrier to showing depth-separation for benign functions, even between networks of constant depth and networks of nonconstant depth. We also study size-separation, namely, whether there are benign functions that can be approximated with networks of size $O(s(d))$, but not with networks of size $O(s'(d))$. We show a complexity-theoretic barrier to proving such results beyond size $O(d\log^2(d))$, but also show an explicit benign function, that can be approximated with networks of size $O(d)$ and not with networks of size $o(d/\log d)$. For approximation in the $L_\infty$ sense we achieve such separation already between size $O(d)$ and size $o(d)$. Moreover, we show superpolynomial size lower bounds and barriers to such lower bounds, depending on the assumptions on the function. Our size-separation results rely on an analysis of size lower bounds for Boolean functions, which is of independent interest: We show linear size lower bounds for computing explicit Boolean functions (such as set disjointness) with neural networks and threshold circuits.

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