Google Research

A Theoretical Analysis of Fine-tuning with Linear Teachers

Advanced in Neural Information Processing Systems (2021)


Fine-tuning is a common practice in deep learning, achieving excellent generalization results on downstream tasks using relatively little training data. Although widely used in practice, it is lacking strong theoretical understanding. Here we analyze the sample complexity of this scheme for regression with linear teachers in several architectures. Intuitively, the success of fine-tuning depends on the similarity between the source tasks and the target task, however measuring this similarity is non trivial. We show that generalization is related to a measure that considers the relation between the source task, target task and covariance structure of the target data. In the setting of linear regression, we show that under realistic settings a substantial sample complexity reduction is plausible when the above measure is low. For deep linear regression, we present a novel result regarding the inductive bias of gradient-based training when the network is initialized with pretrained weights. Using this result we show that the similarity measure for this setting is also affected by the depth of the network. We further present results on shallow ReLU models, and analyze the dependence of sample complexity on source and target tasks in this setting.

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