Normalizing flows are among the most popular paradigms in generative modeling, especially for images, primarily because we can efficiently evaluate the likelihood of a data point. This is desirable both for evaluating the fit of a model, and for ease of training, as maximizing the likelihood can be done by gradient descent. However, training normalizing flows comes with difficulties as well: models which produce good samples typically need to be extremely deep -- which comes with accompanying vanishing/exploding gradient problems. A very related problem is that they are often poorly \emph{conditioned}: since they are parametrized as invertible maps from $\mathbb{R}^d \to \mathbb{R}^d$, and typical training data like images intuitively is lower-dimensional, the learned maps often have Jacobians that are close to being singular.
In our paper, we tackle representational aspects around depth and conditioning of normalizing flows: both for general invertible architectures, and for a particular common architecture, affine couplings. We prove that $\Theta(1)$ affine coupling layers suffice to exactly represent a permutation or $1 \times 1$ convolution, as used in GLOW, showing that representationally the choice of partition is not a bottleneck for depth. We also show that shallow affine coupling networks are universal approximators in Wasserstein distance if ill-conditioning is allowed, and experimentally investigate related phenomena involving padding. Finally, we show a depth lower bound for general flow architectures with few neurons per layer and bounded Lipschitz constant.

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