Keywords: [ Statistical Learning Theory ]
Neural Architecture Search (NAS) is a popular method for automatically designing optimized deep-learning architectures. NAS methods commonly use bilevel optimization where one optimizes the weights over the training data (lower-level problem) and hyperparameters - such as the architecture - over the validation data (upper-level problem). This paper explores the statistical aspects of such problems with train-validation splits. In practice, the lower-level problem is often overparameterized and can easily achieve zero loss. Thus, a-priori, it seems impossible to distinguish the right hyperparameters based on training loss alone which motivates a better understanding of train-validation split. To this aim, we first show that refined properties of the validation loss such as risk and hyper-gradients are indicative of those of the true test loss and help prevent overfitting with a near-minimal validation sample size. Importantly, this is established for continuous search spaces which are relevant for differentiable search schemes. We then establish generalization bounds for NAS problems with an emphasis on an activation search problem and gradient-based methods. Finally, we show rigorous connections between NAS and low-rank matrix learning which leads to algorithmic insights where the solution of the upper problem can be accurately learned via spectral methods to achieve near-minimal risk.