Journal of Computational Physics

Nonlocal kernel network (NKN): A stable and resolution-independent deep neural network

View publication


Neural operators [1–5] have recently become popular tools for designing solution maps between function spaces in the form of neural networks. Differently from classical scientific machine learning approaches that learn parameters of a known partial differential equation (PDE) for a single instance of the input parameters at a fixed resolution, neural operators approximate the solution map of a family of PDEs [6,7]. Despite their success, the uses of neural operators are so far restricted to relatively shallow neural networks and confined to learning hidden governing laws. In this work, we propose a novel nonlocal neural operator, which we refer to as nonlocal kernel network (NKN), that is resolution independent, characterized by deep neural networks, and capable of handling a variety of tasks such as learning governing equations and classifying images. Our NKN stems from the interpretation of the neural network as a discrete nonlocal diffusion reaction equation that, in the limit of infinite layers, is equivalent to a parabolic nonlocal equation, whose stability is analyzed via nonlocal vector calculus. The resemblance with integral forms of neural operators allows NKNs to capture long-range dependencies in the feature space, while the continuous treatment of node-to-node interactions makes NKNs resolution independent. The resemblance with neural ODEs, reinterpreted in a nonlocal sense, and the stable network dynamics between layers allow for generalization of NKN's optimal parameters from shallow to deep networks. This fact enables the use of shallow-to-deep initialization techniques [8]. Our tests show that NKNs outperform baseline methods in both learning governing equations and image classification tasks and generalize well to different resolutions and depths.