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Exploring the Relationship Between Architectural Design and Adversarially Robust Generalization

Aishan Liu · Shiyu Tang · Siyuan Liang · Ruihao Gong · Boxi Wu · Xianglong Liu · Dacheng Tao

West Building Exhibit Halls ABC 391


Adversarial training has been demonstrated to be one of the most effective remedies for defending adversarial examples, yet it often suffers from the huge robustness generalization gap on unseen testing adversaries, deemed as the adversarially robust generalization problem. Despite the preliminary understandings devoted to adversarially robust generalization, little is known from the architectural perspective. To bridge the gap, this paper for the first time systematically investigated the relationship between adversarially robust generalization and architectural design. In particular, we comprehensively evaluated 20 most representative adversarially trained architectures on ImageNette and CIFAR-10 datasets towards multiple l_p-norm adversarial attacks. Based on the extensive experiments, we found that, under aligned settings, Vision Transformers (e.g., PVT, CoAtNet) often yield better adversarially robust generalization while CNNs tend to overfit on specific attacks and fail to generalize on multiple adversaries. To better understand the nature behind it, we conduct theoretical analysis via the lens of Rademacher complexity. We revealed the fact that the higher weight sparsity contributes significantly towards the better adversarially robust generalization of Transformers, which can be often achieved by the specially-designed attention blocks. We hope our paper could help to better understand the mechanism for designing robust DNNs. Our model weights can be found at

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