The Description Length of Deep Learning Models

Neural Information Processing Systems (NeurIPS)


Solomonoff’s general theory of inference (Solomonoff, 1964) and the Minimum Description Length principle (Grünwald, 2007; Rissanen, 2007) formalize Occam’s razor, and hold that a good model of data is a model that is good at losslessly compressing the data, including the cost of describing the model itself. Deep neural networks might seem to go against this principle given the large number of parameters to be encoded.

We demonstrate experimentally the ability of deep neural networks to compress the training data even when accounting for parameter encoding. The compression viewpoint originally motivated the use of variational methods in neural networks (Hinton and Van Camp, 1993; Schmidhuber, 1997). Unexpectedly, we found that these variational methods provide surprisingly poor compression bounds, despite being explicitly built to minimize such bounds. This might explain the relatively poor practical performance of variational methods in deep learning. On the other hand, simple incremental encoding methods yield excellent compression values on deep networks, vindicating Solomonoff’s approach.

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