Trust but Verify: An Information-Theoretic Explanation for the Adversarial Fragility of Machine Learning Systems, and a General Defense against Adversarial Attacks

Deep-learning based classification algorithms have been shown to be susceptible to adversarial attacks: minor changes to the input of classifiers can dramatically change their outputs, while being imperceptible to humans. In this paper, we present a simple hypothesis about a feature compression property of artificial intelligence (AI) classifiers and present theoretical arguments to show that this hypothesis successfully accounts for the observed fragility of AI classifiers to small adversarial perturbations. Drawing on ideas from information and coding theory, we propose a general class of defenses for detecting classifier errors caused by abnormally small input perturbations. We further show theoretical guarantees for the performance of this detection method. We present experimental results with (a) a voice recognition system, and (b) a digit recognition system using the MNIST database, to demonstrate the effectiveness of the proposed defense methods. The ideas in this paper are motivated by a simple analogy between AI classifiers and the standard Shannon model of a communication system.

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