Towards moderate overparameterization: global convergence guarantees for training shallow neural networks

Samet Oymak, Mahdi Soltanolkotabi

Many modern neural network architectures are trained in an overparameterized regime where the parameters of the model exceed the size of the training dataset. Sufficiently overparameterized neural network architectures in principle have the capacity to fit any set of labels including random noise. However, given the highly nonconvex nature of the training landscape it is not clear what level and kind of overparameterization is required for first order methods to converge to a global optima that perfectly interpolate any labels. A number of recent theoretical works have shown that for very wide neural networks where the number of hidden units is polynomially large in the size of the training data gradient descent starting from a random initialization does indeed converge to a global optima. However, in practice much more moderate levels of overparameterization seems to be sufficient and in many cases overparameterized models seem to perfectly interpolate the training data as soon as the number of parameters exceed the size of the training data by a constant factor. Thus there is a huge gap between the existing theoretical literature and practical experiments. In this paper we take a step towards closing this gap. Focusing on shallow neural nets and smooth activations, we show that (stochastic) gradient descent when initialized at random converges at a geometric rate to a nearby global optima as soon as the square-root of the number of network parameters exceeds the size of the training data. Our results also benefit from a fast convergence rate and continue to hold for non-differentiable activations such as Rectified Linear Units (ReLUs).

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