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# A theory of high dimensional regression with arbitrary correlations between input features and target functions: sample complexity, multiple descent curves and a hierarchy of phase transitions

*Proceedings of the 38th International Conference on Machine Learning*, PMLR 139:7578-7587, 2021.

#### Abstract

The performance of neural networks depends on precise relationships between four distinct ingredients: the architecture, the loss function, the statistical structure of inputs, and the ground truth target function. Much theoretical work has focused on understanding the role of the first two ingredients under highly simplified models of random uncorrelated data and target functions. In contrast, performance likely relies on a conspiracy between the statistical structure of the input distribution and the structure of the function to be learned. To understand this better we revisit ridge regression in high dimensions, which corresponds to an exceedingly simple architecture and loss function, but we analyze its performance under arbitrary correlations between input features and the target function. We find a rich mathematical structure that includes: (1) a dramatic reduction in sample complexity when the target function aligns with data anisotropy; (2) the existence of multiple descent curves; (3) a sequence of phase transitions in the performance, loss landscape, and optimal regularization as a function of the amount of data that explains the first two effects.