Oral Session 6

Moderators: Alessandro Sperduti · Lam Nguyen · Shalini Ghosh


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Tue 4 May 19:00 - 19:15 PDT
Deep symbolic regression: Recovering mathematical expressions from data via risk-seeking policy gradients

Brenden Petersen · Mikel Landajuela Larma · Terrell N Mundhenk · Claudio Santiago · Soo Kim · Joanne Kim

Discovering the underlying mathematical expressions describing a dataset is a core challenge for artificial intelligence. This is the problem of $\textit{symbolic regression}$. Despite recent advances in training neural networks to solve complex tasks, deep learning approaches to symbolic regression are underexplored. We propose a framework that leverages deep learning for symbolic regression via a simple idea: use a large model to search the space of small models. Specifically, we use a recurrent neural network to emit a distribution over tractable mathematical expressions and employ a novel risk-seeking policy gradient to train the network to generate better-fitting expressions. Our algorithm outperforms several baseline methods (including Eureqa, the gold standard for symbolic regression) in its ability to exactly recover symbolic expressions on a series of benchmark problems, both with and without added noise. More broadly, our contributions include a framework that can be applied to optimize hierarchical, variable-length objects under a black-box performance metric, with the ability to incorporate constraints in situ, and a risk-seeking policy gradient formulation that optimizes for best-case performance instead of expected performance.

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Tue 4 May 19:15 - 19:25 PDT
DDPNOpt: Differential Dynamic Programming Neural Optimizer

Guan-Horng Liu · Tianrong Chen · Evangelos Theodorou

Interpretation of Deep Neural Networks (DNNs) training as an optimal control problem with nonlinear dynamical systems has received considerable attention recently, yet the algorithmic development remains relatively limited. In this work, we make an attempt along this line by reformulating the training procedure from the trajectory optimization perspective. We first show that most widely-used algorithms for training DNNs can be linked to the Differential Dynamic Programming (DDP), a celebrated second-order method rooted in the Approximate Dynamic Programming. In this vein, we propose a new class of optimizer, DDP Neural Optimizer (DDPNOpt), for training feedforward and convolution networks. DDPNOpt features layer-wise feedback policies which improve convergence and reduce sensitivity to hyper-parameter over existing methods. It outperforms other optimal-control inspired training methods in both convergence and complexity, and is competitive against state-of-the-art first and second order methods. We also observe DDPNOpt has surprising benefit in preventing gradient vanishing. Our work opens up new avenues for principled algorithmic design built upon the optimal control theory.

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Tue 4 May 19:25 - 19:35 PDT
Orthogonalizing Convolutional Layers with the Cayley Transform

Asher Trockman · Zico Kolter

Recent work has highlighted several advantages of enforcing orthogonality in the weight layers of deep networks, such as maintaining the stability of activations, preserving gradient norms, and enhancing adversarial robustness by enforcing low Lipschitz constants. Although numerous methods exist for enforcing the orthogonality of fully-connected layers, those for convolutional layers are more heuristic in nature, often focusing on penalty methods or limited classes of convolutions. In this work, we propose and evaluate an alternative approach to directly parameterize convolutional layers that are constrained to be orthogonal. Specifically, we propose to apply the Cayley transform to a skew-symmetric convolution in the Fourier domain, so that the inverse convolution needed by the Cayley transform can be computed efficiently. We compare our method to previous Lipschitz-constrained and orthogonal convolutional layers and show that it indeed preserves orthogonality to a high degree even for large convolutions. Applied to the problem of certified adversarial robustness, we show that networks incorporating the layer outperform existing deterministic methods for certified defense against $\ell_2$-norm-bounded adversaries, while scaling to larger architectures than previously investigated. Code is available at

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Tue 4 May 19:35 - 19:45 PDT
Model-Based Visual Planning with Self-Supervised Functional Distances

Stephen Tian · Suraj Nair · Frederik Ebert · Sudeep Dasari · Benjamin Eysenbach · Chelsea Finn · Sergey Levine

A generalist robot must be able to complete a variety of tasks in its environment. One appealing way to specify each task is in terms of a goal observation. However, learning goal-reaching policies with reinforcement learning remains a challenging problem, particularly when hand-engineered reward functions are not available. Learned dynamics models are a promising approach for learning about the environment without rewards or task-directed data, but planning to reach goals with such a model requires a notion of functional similarity between observations and goal states. We present a self-supervised method for model-based visual goal reaching, which uses both a visual dynamics model as well as a dynamical distance function learned using model-free reinforcement learning. Our approach learns entirely using offline, unlabeled data, making it practical to scale to large and diverse datasets. In our experiments, we find that our method can successfully learn models that perform a variety of tasks at test-time, moving objects amid distractors with a simulated robotic arm and even learning to open and close a drawer using a real-world robot. In comparisons, we find that this approach substantially outperforms both model-free and model-based prior methods.

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Tue 4 May 19:45 - 19:55 PDT

Tue 4 May 19:55 - 20:10 PDT
Global Convergence of Three-layer Neural Networks in the Mean Field Regime

Huy Tuan Pham · Phan-Minh Nguyen

In the mean field regime, neural networks are appropriately scaled so that as the width tends to infinity, the learning dynamics tends to a nonlinear and nontrivial dynamical limit, known as the mean field limit. This lends a way to study large-width neural networks via analyzing the mean field limit. Recent works have successfully applied such analysis to two-layer networks and provided global convergence guarantees. The extension to multilayer ones however has been a highly challenging puzzle, and little is known about the optimization efficiency in the mean field regime when there are more than two layers.

In this work, we prove a global convergence result for unregularized feedforward three-layer networks in the mean field regime. We first develop a rigorous framework to establish the mean field limit of three-layer networks under stochastic gradient descent training. To that end, we propose the idea of a neuronal embedding, which comprises of a fixed probability space that encapsulates neural networks of arbitrary sizes. The identified mean field limit is then used to prove a global convergence guarantee under suitable regularity and convergence mode assumptions, which – unlike previous works on two-layer networks – does not rely critically on convexity. Underlying the result is a universal approximation property, natural of neural networks, which importantly is shown to hold at any finite training time (not necessarily at convergence) via an algebraic topology argument.

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Tue 4 May 20:10 - 20:20 PDT
Minimum Width for Universal Approximation

Sejun Park · Chulhee Yun · Jaeho Lee · Jinwoo Shin

The universal approximation property of width-bounded networks has been studied as a dual of classical universal approximation results on depth-bounded networks. However, the critical width enabling the universal approximation has not been exactly characterized in terms of the input dimension $d_x$ and the output dimension $d_y$. In this work, we provide the first definitive result in this direction for networks using the ReLU activation functions: The minimum width required for the universal approximation of the $L^p$ functions is exactly $\max\{d_x+1,d_y\}$. We also prove that the same conclusion does not hold for the uniform approximation with ReLU, but does hold with an additional threshold activation function. Our proof technique can be also used to derive a tighter upper bound on the minimum width required for the universal approximation using networks with general activation functions.

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Tue 4 May 20:20 - 20:30 PDT
Async-RED: A Provably Convergent Asynchronous Block Parallel Stochastic Method using Deep Denoising Priors

Yu Sun · Jiaming Liu · Yiran Sun · Brendt Wohlberg · Ulugbek Kamilov

Regularization by denoising (RED) is a recently developed framework for solving inverse problems by integrating advanced denoisers as image priors. Recent work has shown its state-of-the-art performance when combined with pre-trained deep denoisers. However, current RED algorithms are inadequate for parallel processing on multicore systems. We address this issue by proposing a new{asynchronous RED (Async-RED) algorithm that enables asynchronous parallel processing of data, making it significantly faster than its serial counterparts for large-scale inverse problems. The computational complexity of Async-RED is further reduced by using a random subset of measurements at every iteration. We present a complete theoretical analysis of the algorithm by establishing its convergence under explicit assumptions on the data-fidelity and the denoiser. We validate Async-RED on image recovery using pre-trained deep denoisers as priors.

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Tue 4 May 20:30 - 20:40 PDT
Individually Fair Gradient Boosting

Alexander Vargo · Fan Zhang · Mikhail Yurochkin · Yuekai Sun

We consider the task of enforcing individual fairness in gradient boosting. Gradient boosting is a popular method for machine learning from tabular data, which arise often in applications where algorithmic fairness is a concern. At a high level, our approach is a functional gradient descent on a (distributionally) robust loss function that encodes our intuition of algorithmic fairness for the ML task at hand. Unlike prior approaches to individual fairness that only work with smooth ML models, our approach also works with non-smooth models such as decision trees. We show that our algorithm converges globally and generalizes. We also demonstrate the efficacy of our algorithm on three ML problems susceptible to algorithmic bias.

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Tue 4 May 20:40 - 20:50 PDT
Are Neural Rankers still Outperformed by Gradient Boosted Decision Trees?

Zhen Qin · Le Yan · Honglei Zhuang · Yi Tay · Rama Kumar Pasumarthi · Xuanhui Wang · Michael Bendersky · Marc Najork

Despite the success of neural models on many major machine learning problems, their effectiveness on traditional Learning-to-Rank (LTR) problems is still not widely acknowledged. We first validate this concern by showing that most recent neural LTR models are, by a large margin, inferior to the best publicly available Gradient Boosted Decision Trees (GBDT) in terms of their reported ranking accuracy on benchmark datasets. This unfortunately was somehow overlooked in recent neural LTR papers. We then investigate why existing neural LTR models under-perform and identify several of their weaknesses. Furthermore, we propose a unified framework comprising of counter strategies to ameliorate the existing weaknesses of neural models. Our models are the first to be able to perform equally well, comparing with the best tree-based baseline, while outperforming recently published neural LTR models by a large margin. Our results can also serve as a benchmark to facilitate future improvement of neural LTR models.

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Tue 4 May 20:50 - 21:03 PDT

Tue 4 May 21:03 - 21:18 PDT
Co-Mixup: Saliency Guided Joint Mixup with Supermodular Diversity

Jang-Hyun Kim · Wonho Choo · Hosan Jeong · Hyun Oh Song

While deep neural networks show great performance on fitting to the training distribution, improving the networks' generalization performance to the test distribution and robustness to the sensitivity to input perturbations still remain as a challenge. Although a number of mixup based augmentation strategies have been proposed to partially address them, it remains unclear as to how to best utilize the supervisory signal within each input data for mixup from the optimization perspective. We propose a new perspective on batch mixup and formulate the optimal construction of a batch of mixup data maximizing the data saliency measure of each individual mixup data and encouraging the supermodular diversity among the constructed mixup data. This leads to a novel discrete optimization problem minimizing the difference between submodular functions. We also propose an efficient modular approximation based iterative submodular minimization algorithm for efficient mixup computation per each minibatch suitable for minibatch based neural network training. Our experiments show the proposed method achieves the state of the art generalization, calibration, and weakly supervised localization results compared to other mixup methods. The source code is available at

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Tue 4 May 21:18 - 21:33 PDT
MONGOOSE: A Learnable LSH Framework for Efficient Neural Network Training

Beidi Chen · Zichang Liu · Binghui Peng · Zhaozhuo Xu · Jonathan L Li · Tri Dao · Zhao Song · Anshumali Shrivastava · Christopher Re

Recent advances by practitioners in the deep learning community have breathed new life into Locality Sensitive Hashing (LSH), using it to reduce memory and time bottlenecks in neural network (NN) training. However, while LSH has sub-linear guarantees for approximate near-neighbor search in theory, it is known to have inefficient query time in practice due to its use of random hash functions. Moreover, when model parameters are changing, LSH suffers from update overhead. This work is motivated by an observation that model parameters evolve slowly, such that the changes do not always require an LSH update to maintain performance. This phenomenon points to the potential for a reduction in update time and allows for a modified learnable version of data-dependent LSH to improve query time at a low cost. We use the above insights to build MONGOOSE, an end-to-end LSH framework for efficient NN training. In particular, MONGOOSE is equipped with a scheduling algorithm to adaptively perform LSH updates with provable guarantees and learnable hash functions to improve query efficiency. Empirically, we validate MONGOOSE on large-scale deep learning models for recommendation systems and language modeling. We find that it achieves up to 8% better accuracy compared to previous LSH approaches, with $6.5 \times$ speed-up and $6\times$ reduction in memory usage.

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Tue 4 May 21:33 - 21:43 PDT
Locally Free Weight Sharing for Network Width Search

Xiu Su · Shan You · Tao Huang · Fei Wang · Chen Qian · Changshui Zhang · Chang Xu

Searching for network width is an effective way to slim deep neural networks with hardware budgets. With this aim, a one-shot supernet is usually leveraged as a performance evaluator to rank the performance \wrt~different width. Nevertheless, current methods mainly follow a manually fixed weight sharing pattern, which is limited to distinguish the performance gap of different width. In this paper, to better evaluate each width, we propose a locally free weight sharing strategy (CafeNet) accordingly. In CafeNet, weights are more freely shared, and each width is jointly indicated by its base channels and free channels, where free channels are supposed to locate freely in a local zone to better represent each width. Besides, we propose to further reduce the search space by leveraging our introduced FLOPs-sensitive bins. As a result, our CafeNet can be trained stochastically and get optimized within a min-min strategy. Extensive experiments on ImageNet, CIFAR-10, CelebA and MS COCO dataset have verified our superiority comparing to other state-of-the-art baselines. For example, our method can further boost the benchmark NAS network EfficientNet-B0 by 0.41\% via searching its width more delicately.

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Tue 4 May 21:43 - 21:53 PDT
Memory Optimization for Deep Networks

Aashaka Shah · Chao-Yuan Wu · Jayashree Mohan · Vijay Chidambaram · Philipp Krähenbühl

Deep learning is slowly, but steadily, hitting a memory bottleneck. While the tensor computation in top-of-the-line GPUs increased by $32\times$ over the last five years, the total available memory only grew by $2.5\times$. This prevents researchers from exploring larger architectures, as training large networks requires more memory for storing intermediate outputs. In this paper, we present MONeT, an automatic framework that minimizes both the memory footprint and computational overhead of deep networks. MONeT jointly optimizes the checkpointing schedule and the implementation of various operators. MONeT is able to outperform all prior hand-tuned operations as well as automated checkpointing. MONeT reduces the overall memory requirement by $3\times$ for various PyTorch models, with a 9-16$\%$ overhead in computation. For the same computation cost, MONeT requires 1.2-1.8$\times$ less memory than current state-of-the-art automated checkpointing frameworks. Our code will be made publicly available upon acceptance.

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Tue 4 May 21:53 - 22:03 PDT
Neural Topic Model via Optimal Transport

He Zhao · Dinh Phung · Viet Huynh · Trung Le · Wray Buntine

Recently, Neural Topic Models (NTMs) inspired by variational autoencoders have obtained increasingly research interest due to their promising results on text analysis. However, it is usually hard for existing NTMs to achieve good document representation and coherent/diverse topics at the same time. Moreover, they often degrade their performance severely on short documents. The requirement of reparameterisation could also comprise their training quality and model flexibility. To address these shortcomings, we present a new neural topic model via the theory of optimal transport (OT). Specifically, we propose to learn the topic distribution of a document by directly minimising its OT distance to the document's word distributions. Importantly, the cost matrix of the OT distance models the weights between topics and words, which is constructed by the distances between topics and words in an embedding space. Our proposed model can be trained efficiently with a differentiable loss. Extensive experiments show that our framework significantly outperforms the state-of-the-art NTMs on discovering more coherent and diverse topics and deriving better document representations for both regular and short texts.

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Tue 4 May 22:03 - 22:16 PDT