Google Research

Explaining Neural Scaling Laws

arxiv (2021)


The test loss of well-trained neural networks often follows precise power-law scaling relations with either the size of the training dataset or the number of parameters in the network. We propose a theory that explains and connects these scaling laws. We identify variance-limited and resolution-limited scaling behavior for both model and dataset size, for a total of four scaling regimes. The variance-limited scaling follows simply from the existence of a well-behaved infinite data or infinite width limit, while the resolution-limited regime can be explained by positing that models are effectively resolving a smooth data manifold. In the large width limit, this can be equivalently obtained from the spectrum of certain kernels, and we present evidence that large width and large dataset resolution-limited scaling exponents are related by a duality. We exhibit all four scaling regimes in the controlled setting of large random feature and pre-trained models and test the predictions empirically on a range of standard architectures and datasets. We also observe several empirical relationships between datasets and scaling exponents: super-classing image classifiers does not change exponents, while changing input distribution (via changing datasets or adding noise) has a strong effect. We further explore the effect of architecture aspect ratio on scaling exponents.

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