Portrait of Greg Yang

Greg Yang



I am currently developing a framework called Tensor Programs for understanding large (wide) neural networks, and more generally, computational graphs such as commonly seen in Pytorch/Tensorflow programs.

What is a Tensor Program (TP)?

Informally, a TP is just a composition of matrix multiplication and coordinatewise nonlinearities.

Why is it important?

It turns out that practically any computation in Deep Learning can be expressed as a TP, e.g. training a transformer on wikipedia data. Simultaneously, any Tensor Program has an “infinite-width” limit which can be derived from the program itself (through what’s called the Master Theorem). So this gives a universal way of taking the infinite-width limit of any deep learning computation, e.g. training an infinite-width transformer on wikipedia data. This generalizes several lines of previous research, including the Neural Network-Gaussian Process Correspondence, Neural Tangent Kernel, mean field limit of shallow networks, and neural signal propagation, as well as areas outside of deep learning such as random matrix theory and asymmetric message passing.

How is this different from Neural Tangent Kernel (NTK)?

As mentioned above, NTK is a special case of TP. More importantly, a neural network in the NTK limit does not learn features — which contradicts the conventional wisdom that neural networks are successful because of its feature learning capability (e.g. conv nets and BERT). On the other hand, using TP, one can derive a limit that maximally learns features in a suitable sense (see TP4). When explicitly trained on tasks that depend crucially on feature learning (e.g. Word2Vec), this limit handily beats the NTK limit, as one would expect.

word2vec embeddings

word2vec performances

Is there software to automatically convert my Pytorch/Tensorflow code to train infinite-width neural networks?

Working on it 🙂 In the mean time, if you don’t care about feature learning, then you can check out neural-tangents for kernel limits of common neural networks.

Summary of the papers on TP so far

Scaling Limits of Wide Neural Networks


This is the original paper on Tensor Programs (so it could be named “Tensor Programs O”). It first established the paradigm of 1) using a formal language (Tensor Programs) to capture possible neural computations and 2) deriving an algorithm (the Master Theorem) for taking the infinite-width limit of any such program. All later papers will follow this paradigm.

Unfortunately for readers, the writing was very dense and notation cumbersome, so the next 3 papers focus more pedagogy and presentation of the material to a wider audience, as well as some minor but useful improvements of the results in this paper.

Tensor Programs I: Wide Neural Networks of Any Architecture are Gaussian Processes



This paper shows that an infinite-width neural network of any architecture (in the standard parametrization) are Gaussian processes at initialization. It also demonstrates how to calculate the kernel of this Gaussian process.

This is a consequence of the simplest form (called Netsor) of Tensor Programs, where one cannot use a matrix and its transpose in the same program, and its Master Theorem. Their theory is fully developed in a self-contained way here.

Tensor Programs II: Neural Tangent Kernel for Any Architecture



This paper shows that the Neural Tangent Kernel of a neural network of any architecture (in the NTK parametrization) converges to a well-defined, deterministic kernel at initialization. It also demonstrates how to calculate the kernel. (Note it doesn’t yet say anything about training, which will be done in a later paper to complete the picture).

This is a consequence of an extension of Netsor (called NetsorT), where one can use a matrix and its transpose in the same program in a restricted way. Its theory is fully developed in a self-contained way here.

Tensor Programs III: Neural Matrix Laws


This paper targets a slightly more mathematical audience than the previous papers. It shows how to calculate the Jacobian singular value distribution of an infinite-width neural network. As special cases, it recovers the classical semicircle and Marchenko-Pastur laws.

This is a consequence of the full version of Tensor Programs, where one can use a matrix and its transpose arbitrarily. Its theory is fully developed in a self-contained way here.

This paper is intended to serve as a rigorous reference for the TP foundation going forward.

Feature Learning in Infinite-Width Neural Networks



Bilibili (for folks in China)

This paper derives “the” feature learning limit of neural networks, in contrast to the Neural Tangent Kernel limit, using machinery developed in the previous papers (especially TP3).

This is officially “Tensor Programs IV” but I want to stop the numbering in the title because it takes too much space.

(Some trivia: this paper was supposed to be written right after TP0, but I realized the TP foundation needed to be solidified in terms of presentation and notation, hence TP1-3 and why this paper came almost two years later)

Reading Guide

Learning and reading are most effective when one is well-motivated to understand some result. So if any of the papers have a punchline that you are interested in, feel free to read from the beginning until things become difficult to understand (you don’t have to go in order of TP1-4). At this point, it can be advantageous to switch to one of the other papers in the series to gain a different perspective on the same underlying technique. This can then help you proceed further on the original paper. Repeat until you understand everything.

That said, the quality of the presentation in my opinion is best in TP2-4 (just from the experience of presenting the material a few times already, with improved notation each time). So if TP1 feels too dense, I recommend looking at any of TP2-4 and come back to TP1 later.