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Is SGD a Bayesian sampler? Well, almost

Chris Mingard, Guillermo Valle-Pérez, Joar Skalse, Ard A. Louis; 22(79):1−64, 2021.


Deep neural networks (DNNs) generalise remarkably well in the overparameterised regime, suggesting a strong inductive bias towards functions with low generalisation error. We empirically investigate this bias by calculating, for a range of architectures and datasets, the probability $P_{SGD}(f\mid S)$ that an overparameterised DNN, trained with stochastic gradient descent (SGD) or one of its variants, converges on a function $f$ consistent with a training set $S$. We also use Gaussian processes to estimate the Bayesian posterior probability $P_{B}(f\mid S)$ that the DNN expresses $f$ upon random sampling of its parameters, conditioned on $S$. Our main findings are that $P_{SGD}(f\mid S)$ correlates remarkably well with $P_{B}(f\mid S)$ and that $P_{B}(f\mid S)$ is strongly biased towards low-error and low complexity functions. These results imply that strong inductive bias in the parameter-function map (which determines $P_{B}(f\mid S)$), rather than a special property of SGD, is the primary explanation for why DNNs generalise so well in the overparameterised regime. While our results suggest that the Bayesian posterior $P_{B}(f\mid S)$ is the first order determinant of $P_{SGD}(f\mid S)$, there remain second order differences that are sensitive to hyperparameter tuning. A function probability picture, based on $P_{SGD}(f\mid S)$ and/or $P_{B}(f\mid S)$, can shed light on the way that variations in architecture or hyperparameter settings such as batch size, learning rate, and optimiser choice, affect DNN performance.

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