Towards Understanding the Dynamics of the First-Order Adversaries

Zhun Deng, Hangfeng He, Jiaoyang Huang, Weijie Su,


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An acknowledged weakness of neural networks is their vulnerability to adversarial perturbations to the inputs. To improve the robustness of these models, one of the most popular defense mechanisms is to alternatively maximize the loss over the constrained perturbations (or called adversaries) on the inputs using projected gradient ascent and minimize over weights. In this paper, we analyze the dynamics of the maximization step towards understanding the experimentally observed effectiveness of this defense mechanism. Specifically, we investigate the landscape of the adversaries for a two-layer neural network with a quadratic loss. Our main result proves that projected gradient ascent finds a local maximum of this non-concave problem in a polynomial number of iterations with high probability. To our knowledge, this is the first work that provides a convergence analysis of the first-order adversaries. Moreover, our analysis demonstrates that, in the initial phase of adversarial training, the scale of the inputs matters in the sense that a smaller input scale leads to faster convergence of adversarial training and a ``more regular'' landscape. Finally, we show that these theoretical findings are in excellent agreement with a series of experiments.

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