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# Topological Expressivity of ReLU Neural Networks

*Proceedings of Thirty Seventh Conference on Learning Theory*, PMLR 247:1599-1642, 2024.

#### Abstract

We study the expressivity of ReLU neural networks in the setting of a binary classification problem from a topological perspective. Recently, empirical studies showed that neural networks operate by changing topology, transforming a topologically complicated data set into a topologically simpler one as it passes through the layers. This topological simplification has been measured by Betti numbers, which are algebraic invariants of a topological space. We use the same measure to establish lower and upper bounds on the topological simplification a ReLU neural network can achieve with a given architecture. We therefore contribute to a better understanding of the expressivity of ReLU neural networks in the context of binary classification problems by shedding light on their ability to capture the underlying topological structure of the data. In particular the results show that deep ReLU neural networks are exponentially more powerful than shallow ones in terms of topological simplification. This provides a mathematically rigorous explanation why deeper networks are better equipped to handle complex and topologically rich data sets.