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On the Stability Properties and the Optimization Landscape of Training Problems with Squared Loss for Neural Networks and General Nonlinear Conic Approximation Schemes

Constantin Christof; 22(263):1−77, 2021.


We study the optimization landscape and the stability properties of training problems with squared loss for neural networks and general nonlinear conic approximation schemes in a deterministic setting. It is demonstrated that, if a nonlinear conic approximation scheme is considered that is (in an appropriately defined sense) more expressive than a classical linear approximation approach and if there exist unrealizable label vectors, then a training problem with squared loss is necessarily unstable in the sense that its solution set depends discontinuously on the label vector in the training data. We further prove that the same effects that are responsible for these instability properties are also the reason for the emergence of saddle points and spurious local minima, which may be arbitrarily far away from global solutions, and that neither the instability of the training problem nor the existence of spurious local minima can, in general, be overcome by adding a regularization term to the objective function that penalizes the size of the parameters in the approximation scheme. The latter results are shown to be true regardless of whether the assumption of realizability is satisfied or not. It is further established that there exists a direct and quantifiable relationship between the analyzed instability properties and the expressiveness of the considered approximation instrument and that the set of training label vectors and, in the regularized case, Tikhonov regularization parameters that give rise to spurious local minima has a nonempty interior. We demonstrate that our analysis in particular applies to training problems for free-knot interpolation schemes and deep and shallow neural networks with variable widths that involve an arbitrary mixture of various activation functions (e.g., binary, sigmoid, tanh, arctan, soft-sign, ISRU, soft-clip, SQNL, ReLU, leaky ReLU, soft-plus, bent identity, SILU, ISRLU, and ELU). In summary, the findings of this paper illustrate that the improved approximation properties of neural networks and general nonlinear conic approximation instruments come at a price and are linked in a direct and quantifiable way to undesirable properties of the optimization problems that have to be solved in order to train them.

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