In this paper, we introduce the notion of “learning capacity” for algorithms that learn from data, which is analogous to the Shannon channel capacity for communication systems. We show how “learning capacity” bridges the gap between statistical learning theory and information theory, and we will use it to derive generalization bounds for finite hypothesis spaces, differential privacy, and countable domains, among others. Moreover, we prove that under the Axiom of Choice, the existence of an empirical risk minimization (ERM) rule that has a vanishing learning capacity is equivalent to the assertion that the hypothesis space has a finite Vapnik–Chervonenkis (VC) dimension, thus establishing an equivalence relation between two of the most fundamental concepts in statistical learning theory and information theory. In addition, we show how the learning capacity of an algorithm provides important qualitative results, such as on the relation between generalization and algorithmic stability, information leakage, and data processing. Finally, we conclude by listing some open problems and suggesting future directions of research.
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