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Fundamental Tradeoffs in Distributionally Adversarial Training

Mohammad Mehrabi · Adel Javanmard · Ryan A. Rossi · Anup Rao · Tung Mai


Adversarial training is among the most effective techniques to improve robustness of models against adversarial perturbations. However, the full effect of this approach on models is not well understood. For example, while adversarial training can reduce the adversarial risk (prediction error against an adversary), it sometimes increase standard risk (generalization error when there is no adversary). In this paper, we focus on \emph{distribution perturbing} adversary framework wherein the adversary can change the test distribution within a neighborhood of the training data distribution. The neighborhood is defined via Wasserstein distance between distributions and the radius of the neighborhood is a measure of adversary's manipulative power. We study the tradeoff between standard risk and adversarial risk and derive the Pareto-optimal tradeoff, achievable over specific classes of models, in the infinite data limit with features dimension kept fixed. We consider three learning settings: 1) Regression with the class of linear models; 2) Binary classification under the Gaussian mixtures data model, with the class of linear classifiers; 3) Regression with the class of random features model (which can be equivalently represented as two-layer neural network with random first-layer weights). We show that a tradeoff between standard and adversarial risk is manifested in all three settings. We further characterize the Pareto-optimal tradeoff curves and discuss how a variety of factors, such as features correlation, adversary's power or the width of two-layer neural network would affect this tradeoff.

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