Adversarial Robustness with Semi-Infinite Constrained Learning

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 34 (NeurIPS 2021)

Bibtex Paper Reviews And Public Comment » Supplemental


Alexander Robey, Luiz Chamon, George J. Pappas, Hamed Hassani, Alejandro Ribeiro


Despite strong performance in numerous applications, the fragility of deep learning to input perturbations has raised serious questions about its use in safety-critical domains. While adversarial training can mitigate this issue in practice, state-of-the-art methods are increasingly application-dependent, heuristic in nature, and suffer from fundamental trade-offs between nominal performance and robustness. Moreover, the problem of finding worst-case perturbations is non-convex and underparameterized, both of which engender a non-favorable optimization landscape. Thus, there is a gap between the theory and practice of robust learning, particularly with respect to when and why adversarial training works. In this paper, we take a constrained learning approach to address these questions and to provide a theoretical foundation for robust learning. In particular, we leverage semi-infinite optimization and non-convex duality theory to show that adversarial training is equivalent to a statistical problem over perturbation distributions. Notably, we show that a myriad of previous robust training techniques can be recovered for particular, sub-optimal choices of these distributions. Using these insights, we then propose a hybrid Langevin Markov Chain Monte Carlo approach for which several common algorithms (e.g., PGD) are special cases. Finally, we show that our approach can mitigate the trade-off between nominal and robust performance, yielding state-of-the-art results on MNIST and CIFAR-10. Our code is available at: