Directional convergence and alignment in deep learning

Ziwei Ji, Matus Telgarsky

Research output: Contribution to journalConference articlepeer-review


In this paper, we show that although the minimizers of cross-entropy and related classification losses are off at infinity, network weights learned by gradient flow converge in direction, with an immediate corollary that network predictions, training errors, and the margin distribution also converge. This proof holds for deep homogeneous networks — a broad class of networks allowing for ReLU, max-pooling, linear, and convolutional layers — and we additionally provide empirical support not just close to the theory (e.g., the AlexNet), but also on non-homogeneous networks (e.g., the DenseNet). If the network further has locally Lipschitz gradients, we show that these gradients also converge in direction, and asymptotically align with the gradient flow path, with consequences on margin maximization, convergence of saliency maps, and a few other settings. Our analysis complements and is distinct from the well-known neural tangent and mean-field theories, and in particular makes no requirements on network width and initialization, instead merely requiring perfect classification accuracy. The proof proceeds by developing a theory of unbounded nonsmooth Kurdyka-Lojasiewicz inequalities for functions definable in an o-minimal structure, and is also applicable outside deep learning.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalAdvances in Neural Information Processing Systems
StatePublished - 2020
Event34th Conference on Neural Information Processing Systems, NeurIPS 2020 - Virtual, Online
Duration: Dec 6 2020Dec 12 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Computer Networks and Communications
  • Information Systems
  • Signal Processing


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