Google Research

Benign Overfitting in Linear Regression

  • Alexander Tsigler
  • Gabor Lugosi
  • Peter Bartlett
  • Phil Long
PNAS, vol. 117 (48) (2020), pp. 30063-30070


The phenomenon of benign overfitting is one of the key mysteries uncovered by deep learning methodology: deep neural networks seem to predict well, even with a perfect fit to noisy training data. Motivated by this phenomenon, we consider when a perfect fit to training data in linear regression is compatible with accurate prediction. We give a characterization of gaussian linear regression problems for which the minimum norm interpolating prediction rule has near-optimal prediction accuracy. The characterization is in terms of two notions of the effective rank of the data covariance. It shows that overparameterization is essential for benign overfitting in this setting: the number of directions in parameter space that are unimportant for prediction must significantly exceed the sample size.

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