Abstract: Feature selection problems have been extensively studied in the setting of linear estimation (e.g. LASSO), but less emphasis has been placed on feature selection for non-linear functions. In this study, we propose a method for feature selection in neural network estimation problems. The new procedure is based on probabilistic relaxation of the $\ell_0$ norm of features, or the count of the number of selected features. Our $\ell_0$-based regularization relies on a continuous relaxation of the Bernoulli distribution; such relaxation allows our model to learn the parameters of the approximate Bernoulli distributions via gradient descent. The proposed framework simultaneously learns either a nonlinear regression or classification function while selecting a small subset of features. We provide an information-theoretic justification for incorporating Bernoulli distribution into feature selection. Furthermore, we evaluate our method using synthetic and real-life data to demonstrate that our approach outperforms other commonly used methods in both predictive performance and feature selection.
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