To Understand Deep Learning We Need to Understand Kernel Learning


Mikhail Belkin, Siyuan Ma, Soumik Mandal ;
Proceedings of the 35th International Conference on Machine Learning, PMLR 80:540-548, 2018.


Generalization performance of classifiers in deep learning has recently become a subject of intense study. Deep models, which are typically heavily over-parametrized, tend to fit the training data exactly. Despite this “overfitting", they perform well on test data, a phenomenon not yet fully understood. The first point of our paper is that strong performance of overfitted classifiers is not a unique feature of deep learning. Using six real-world and two synthetic datasets, we establish experimentally that kernel machines trained to have zero classification error or near zero regression error (interpolation) perform very well on test data. We proceed to give a lower bound on the norm of zero loss solutions for smooth kernels, showing that they increase nearly exponentially with data size. None of the existing bounds produce non-trivial results for interpolating solutions. We also show experimentally that (non-smooth) Laplacian kernels easily fit random labels, a finding that parallels results recently reported for ReLU neural networks. In contrast, fitting noisy data requires many more epochs for smooth Gaussian kernels. Similar performance of overfitted Laplacian and Gaussian classifiers on test, suggests that generalization is tied to the properties of the kernel function rather than the optimization process. Some key phenomena of deep learning are manifested similarly in kernel methods in the modern "overfitted" regime. The combination of the experimental and theoretical results presented in this paper indicates a need for new theoretical ideas for understanding properties of classical kernel methods. We argue that progress on understanding deep learning will be difficult until more tractable “shallow” kernel methods are better understood.

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