Google Research

The Spectrum of the Fisher Information Matrix of a Single-Hidden-Layer Neural Network

  • Jeffrey Pennington
  • Pratik Worah
NeurIPS (2018)


An important factor contributing to the success of deep learning has been the remarkable ability to optimize large neural networks using simple first-order optimization algorithms like stochastic gradient descent. While the efficiency of such methods depends crucially on the local curvature of the loss surface, very little is actually known about how this geometry depends on network architecture and hyperparameters. In this work, we extend a recently-developed framework for studying spectra of nonlinear random matrices to characterize an important measure of curvature, namely the eigenvalues of the Fisher information matrix. We focus on a single-hidden-layer neural network with Gaussian data and weights and provide an exact expression for the spectrum in the limit of infinite width. We find that linear networks suffer worse conditioning than nonlinear networks and that nonlinear networks are generically non-degenerate. We also predict and demonstrate empirically that by adjusting the nonlinearity, the spectrum can be tuned so as to improve the efficiency of first-order optimization methods.

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