Why Flatness Correlates With Generalization For Deep Neural Networks

Shuofeng Zhang, Isaac Reid, Guillermo Valle Pérez, Ard Louis

The intuition that local flatness of the loss landscape is correlated with better generalization for deep neural networks (DNNs) has been explored for decades, spawning many different local flatness measures. Here we argue that these measures correlate with generalization because they are local approximations to a global property, the volume of the set of parameters mapping to a specific function. This global volume is equivalent to the Bayesian prior upon initialization. For functions that give zero error on a test set, it is directly proportional to the Bayesian posterior, making volume a more robust and theoretically better grounded predictor of generalization than flatness. Whilst flatness measures fail under parameter re-scaling, volume remains invariant and therefore continues to correlate well with generalization. Moreover, some variants of SGD can break the flatness-generalization correlation, while the volume-generalization correlation remains intact.

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