Depth Separations in Neural Networks: What is Actually Being Separated?


Itay Safran, Ronen Eldan, Ohad Shamir ;
Proceedings of the Thirty-Second Conference on Learning Theory, PMLR 99:2664-2666, 2019.


Existing depth separation results for constant-depth networks essentially show that certain radial functions in $\mathbb{R}^d$, which can be easily approximated with depth $3$ networks, cannot be approximated by depth $2$ networks, even up to constant accuracy, unless their size is exponential in $d$. However, the functions used to demonstrate this are rapidly oscillating, with a Lipschitz parameter scaling polynomially with the dimension $d$ (or equivalently, by scaling the function, the hardness result applies to $\mathcal{O}(1)$-Lipschitz functions only when the target accuracy $\epsilon$ is at most $\text{poly}(1/d)$). In this paper, we study whether such depth separations might still hold in the natural setting of $\mathcal{O}(1)$-Lipschitz radial functions, when $\epsilon$ does not scale with $d$. Perhaps surprisingly, we show that the answer is negative: In contrast to the intuition suggested by previous work, it \emph{is} possible to approximate $\mathcal{O}(1)$-Lipschitz radial functions with depth $2$, size $\text{poly}(d)$ networks, for every constant $\epsilon$. We complement it by showing that approximating such functions is also possible with depth $2$, size $\text{poly}(1/\epsilon)$ networks, for every constant $d$. Finally, we show that it is not possible to have polynomial dependence in both $d,1/\epsilon$ simultaneously. Overall, our results indicate that in order to show depth separations for expressing $\mathcal{O}(1)$-Lipschitz functions with constant accuracy – if at all possible – one would need fundamentally different techniques than existing ones in the literature.

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