Skip to yearly menu bar Skip to main content


Oral 2: Understanding Deep Learning


Chat is not available.

Tue 26 April 1:00 - 1:15 PDT

Outstanding Paper
Expressiveness and Approximation Properties of Graph Neural Networks

Floris Geerts · Juan L. Reutter

Characterizing the separation power of graph neural networks (GNNs) provides an understanding of their limitations for graph learning tasks. Results regarding separation power are, however, usually geared at specific GNNs architectures, and tools for understanding arbitrary GNN architectures are generally lacking. We provide an elegant way to easily obtain bounds on the separation power of GNNs in terms of the Weisfeiler-Leman (WL) tests, which have become the yardstick to measure the separation power of GNNs. The crux is to view GNNs as expressions in a procedural tensor language describing the computations in the layers of the GNNs. Then, by a simple analysis of the obtained expressions, in terms of the number of indexes used and the nesting depth of summations, bounds on the separation power in terms of the WL-tests readily follow. We use tensor language to define Higher-Order Message-Passing Neural Networks (or k-MPNNs), a natural extension of MPNNs. Furthermore, the tensor language point of view allows for the derivation of universality results for classes of GNNs in a natural way. Our approach provides a toolbox with which GNN architecture designers can analyze the separation power of their GNNs, without needing to know the intricacies of the WL-tests. We also provide insights in what is needed to boost the separation power of GNNs.

Tue 26 April 1:15 - 1:30 PDT

Outstanding Paper
Neural Collapse Under MSE Loss: Proximity to and Dynamics on the Central Path

X.Y. Han · Vardan Papyan · David Donoho

The recently discovered Neural Collapse (NC) phenomenon occurs pervasively in today's deep net training paradigm of driving cross-entropy (CE) loss towards zero. During NC, last-layer features collapse to their class-means, both classifiers and class-means collapse to the same Simplex Equiangular Tight Frame, and classifier behavior collapses to the nearest-class-mean decision rule. Recent works demonstrated that deep nets trained with mean squared error (MSE) loss perform comparably to those trained with CE. As a preliminary, we empirically establish that NC emerges in such MSE-trained deep nets as well through experiments on three canonical networks and five benchmark datasets. We provide, in a Google Colab notebook, PyTorch code for reproducing MSE-NC and CE-NC: The analytically-tractable MSE loss offers more mathematical opportunities than the hard-to-analyze CE loss, inspiring us to leverage MSE loss towards the theoretical investigation of NC. We develop three main contributions: (I) We show a new decomposition of the MSE loss into (A) terms directly interpretable through the lens of NC and which assume the last-layer classifier is exactly the least-squares classifier; and (B) a term capturing the deviation from this least-squares classifier. (II) We exhibit experiments on canonical datasets and networks demonstrating that term-(B) is negligible during training. This motivates us to introduce a new theoretical construct: the central path, where the linear classifier stays MSE-optimal for feature activations throughout the dynamics. (III) By studying renormalized gradient flow along the central path, we derive exact dynamics that predict NC.

Tue 26 April 1:30 - 1:45 PDT

Outstanding Paper
Learning Strides in Convolutional Neural Networks

Rachid Riad · Olivier Teboul · David Grangier · Neil Zeghidour

Convolutional neural networks typically contain several downsampling operators, such as strided convolutions or pooling layers, that progressively reduce the resolution of intermediate representations. This provides some shift-invariance while reducing the computational complexity of the whole architecture. A critical hyperparameter of such layers is their stride: the integer factor of downsampling. As strides are not differentiable, finding the best configuration either requires cross-validation or discrete optimization (e.g. architecture search), which rapidly become prohibitive as the search space grows exponentially with the number of downsampling layers. Hence, exploring this search space by gradient descent would allow finding better configurations at a lower computational cost. This work introduces DiffStride, the first downsampling layer with learnable strides. Our layer learns the size of a cropping mask in the Fourier domain, that effectively performs resizing in a differentiable way. Experiments on audio and image classification show the generality and effectiveness of our solution: we use DiffStride as a drop-in replacement to standard downsampling layers and outperform them. In particular, we show that introducing our layer into a ResNet-18 architecture allows keeping consistent high performance on CIFAR10, CIFAR100 and ImageNet even when training starts from poor random stride configurations. Moreover, formulating strides as learnable variables allows us to introduce a regularization term that controls the computational complexity of the architecture. We show how this regularization allows trading off accuracy for efficiency on ImageNet.

Tue 26 April 1:45 - 2:00 PDT

The Hidden Convex Optimization Landscape of Regularized Two-Layer ReLU Networks: an Exact Characterization of Optimal Solutions

Yifei Wang · Jonathan Lacotte · Mert Pilanci

We prove that finding all globally optimal two-layer ReLU neural networks can be performed by solving a convex optimization program with cone constraints. Our analysis is novel, characterizes all optimal solutions, and does not leverage duality-based analysis which was recently used to lift neural network training into convex spaces. Given the set of solutions of our convex optimization program, we show how to construct exactly the entire set of optimal neural networks. We provide a detailed characterization of this optimal set and its invariant transformations. As additional consequences of our convex perspective, (i) we establish that Clarke stationary points found by stochastic gradient descent correspond to the global optimum of a subsampled convex problem (ii) we provide a polynomial-time algorithm for checking if a neural network is a global minimum of the training loss (iii) we provide an explicit construction of a continuous path between any neural network and the global minimum of its sublevel set and (iv) characterize the minimal size of the hidden layer so that the neural network optimization landscape has no spurious valleys.Overall, we provide a rich framework for studying the landscape of neural network training loss through convexity.

Tue 26 April 2:00 - 2:15 PDT

Minibatch vs Local SGD with Shuffling: Tight Convergence Bounds and Beyond

Chulhee Yun · Shashank Rajput · Suvrit Sra

In distributed learning, local SGD (also known as federated averaging) and its simple baseline minibatch SGD are widely studied optimization methods. Most existing analyses of these methods assume independent and unbiased gradient estimates obtained via with-replacement sampling. In contrast, we study shuffling-based variants: minibatch and local Random Reshuffling, which draw stochastic gradients without replacement and are thus closer to practice. For smooth functions satisfying the Polyak-Ɓojasiewicz condition, we obtain convergence bounds (in the large epoch regime) which show that these shuffling-based variants converge faster than their with-replacement counterparts. Moreover, we prove matching lower bounds showing that our convergence analysis is tight. Finally, we propose an algorithmic modification called synchronized shuffling that leads to convergence rates faster than our lower bounds in near-homogeneous settings.

Tue 26 April 2:15 - 2:30 PDT


Huiqi Deng · Qihan Ren · Hao Zhang · Quanshi Zhang

This paper explores the bottleneck of feature representations of deep neural networks (DNNs), from the perspective of the complexity of interactions between input variables encoded in DNNs. To this end, we focus on the multi-order interaction between input variables, where the order represents the complexity of interactions. We discover that a DNN is more likely to encode both too simple and too complex interactions, but usually fails to learn interactions of intermediate complexity. Such a phenomenon is widely shared by different DNNs for different tasks. This phenomenon indicates a cognition gap between DNNs and humans, and we call it a representation bottleneck. We theoretically prove the underlying reason for the representation bottleneck. Furthermore, we propose losses to encourage/penalize the learning of interactions of specific complexities, and analyze the representation capacities of interactions of different complexities. The code is available at

Tue 26 April 2:30 - 2:45 PDT

Representational Continuity for Unsupervised Continual Learning

Divyam Madaan · Jaehong Yoon · Yuanchun Li · Yunxin Liu · Sung Ju Hwang

Continual learning (CL) aims to learn a sequence of tasks without forgetting the previously acquired knowledge. However, recent CL advances are restricted to supervised continual learning (SCL) scenarios. Consequently, they are not scalable to real-world applications where the data distribution is often biased and unannotated. In this work, we focus on unsupervised continual learning (UCL), where we learn the feature representations on an unlabelled sequence of tasks and show that reliance on annotated data is not necessary for continual learning. We conduct a systematic study analyzing the learned feature representations and show that unsupervised visual representations are surprisingly more robust to catastrophic forgetting, consistently achieve better performance, and generalize better to out-of-distribution tasks than SCL. Furthermore, we find that UCL achieves a smoother loss landscape through qualitative analysis of the learned representations and learns meaningful feature representations. Additionally, we propose Lifelong Unsupervised Mixup (Lump), a simple yet effective technique that interpolates between the current task and previous tasks' instances to alleviate catastrophic forgetting for unsupervised representations.