Convex Geometry of Two-Layer ReLU Networks: Implicit Autoencoding and Interpretable Models

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Tolga Ergen, Mert Pilanci ;
Proceedings of the Twenty Third International Conference on Artificial Intelligence and Statistics, PMLR 108:4024-4033, 2020.

Abstract

We develop a convex analytic framework for ReLU neural networks which elucidates the inner workings of hidden neurons and their function space characteristics. We show that rectified linear units in neural networks act as convex regularizers, where simple solutions are encouraged via extreme points of a certain convex set. For one dimensional regression and classification, we prove that finite two-layer ReLU networks with norm regularization yield linear spline interpolation. In the more general higher dimensional case, we show that the training problem for two-layer networks can be cast as a convex optimization problem with infinitely many constraints. We then provide a family of convex relaxations to approximate the solution, and a cutting-plane algorithm to improve the relaxations. We derive conditions for the exactness of the relaxations and provide simple closed form formulas for the optimal neural network weights in certain cases. Our results show that the hidden neurons of a ReLU network can be interpreted as convex autoencoders of the input layer. We also establish a connection to $\ell_0$-$\ell_1$ equivalence for neural networks analogous to the minimal cardinality solutions in compressed sensing. Extensive experimental results show that the proposed approach yields interpretable and accurate models.

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