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# Learning Two Layer Rectified Neural Networks in Polynomial Time

*Proceedings of the Thirty-Second Conference on Learning Theory*, PMLR 99:195-268, 2019.

#### Abstract

We consider the following fundamental problem in the study of neural networks: given input examples $x \in \mathbb{R}^d$ and their vector-valued labels, as defined by an underlying generative neural network, recover the weight matrices of this network. We consider two-layer networks, mapping $\mathbb{R}^d$ to $\mathbb{R}^m$, with a single hidden layer and $k$ non-linear activation units $f(\cdot)$, where $f(x) = \max \{x , 0\}$ is the ReLU activation function. Such a network is specified by two weight matrices, $\mathbf{U}^* \in \mathbb{R}^{m \times k}, \mathbf{V}^* \in \mathbb{R}^{k \times d}$, such that the label of an example $x \in \mathbb{R}^{d}$ is given by $\mathbf{U}^* f(\mathbf{V}^* x)$, where $f(\cdot)$ is applied coordinate-wise. Given $n$ samples $x^1,…,x^n \in \mathbb{R}^d$ as a matrix $\mathbf{X} \in \mathbb{R}^{d \times n}$ and the label $\mathbf{U}^* f(\mathbf{V}^* \mathbf{X})$ of the network on these samples, our goal is to recover the weight matrices $\mathbf{U}^*$ and $\mathbf{V}^*$. More generally, our labels $\mathbf{U}^* f(\mathbf{V}^* \mathbf{X})$ may be corrupted by noise, and instead we observe $\mathbf{U}^* f(\mathbf{V}^* \mathbf{X}) + \mathbf{E}$ where $\mathbf{E}$ is some noise matrix. Even in this case, we may still be interested in recovering good approximations to the weight matrices $\mathbf{U}^*$ and $\mathbf{V}^*$. In this work, we develop algorithms and hardness results under varying assumptions on the input and noise. Although the problem is NP-hard even for $k=2$, by assuming Gaussian marginals over the input $\mathbf{X}$ we are able to develop polynomial time algorithms for the approximate recovery of $\mathbf{U}^*$ and $\mathbf{V}^*$. Perhaps surprisingly, in the noiseless case our algorithms recover $\mathbf{U}^*,\mathbf{V}^*$ \textit{exactly}, i.e. with no error, in \textit{strongly} polynomial time. To the best of the our knowledge, this is the first algorithm to accomplish exact recovery for the ReLU activation function. For the noisy case, we give the first polynomial time algorithm that approximately recovers the weights in the presence of mean-zero noise $\mathbf{E}$. Our algorithms generalize to a larger class of \textit{rectified} activation functions, $f(x) = 0$ when $x\leq 0$, and $f(x) > 0$ otherwise. Although our polynomial time results require $\mathbf{U}^*$ to have full column rank, we also give a fixed-parameter tractable algorithm (in $k$) when $\mathbf{U}^*$ does not have this property. Lastly, we give a fixed-parameter tractable algorithm for more arbitrary noise matrices $\mathbf{E}$, so long as they are independent of $\mathbf{X}$.