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Theoretical Analysis of Robust Overfitting for Wide DNNs: An NTK Approach

Shaopeng FuDi Wang
Feb 2024
Adversarial training (AT) is a canonical method for enhancing the robustness of deep neural networks (DNNs). However, recent studies empirically demonstrated that it suffers from robust overfitting, i.e., a long time AT can be detrimental to the robustness of DNNs. This paper presents a theoretical explanation of robust overfitting for DNNs. Specifically, we non-trivially extend the neural tangent kernel (NTK) theory to AT and prove that an adversarially trained wide DNN can be well approximated by a linearized DNN. Moreover, for squared loss, closed-form AT dynamics for the linearized DNN can be derived, which reveals a new AT degeneration phenomenon: a long-term AT will result in a wide DNN degenerates to that obtained without AT and thus cause robust overfitting. Based on our theoretical results, we further design a method namely Adv-NTK, the first AT algorithm for infinite-width DNNs. Experiments on real-world datasets show that Adv-NTK can help infinite-width DNNs enhance comparable robustness to that of their finite-width counterparts, which in turn justifies our theoretical findings. The code is available at
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