Analysis of Multi-stage Convex Relaxation for Sparse Regularization

Tong Zhang.

Year: 2010, Volume: 11, Issue: 35, Pages: 1081−1107


We consider learning formulations with non-convex objective functions that often occur in practical applications. There are two approaches to this problem:

  • Heuristic methods such as gradient descent that only find a local minimum. A drawback of this approach is the lack of theoretical guarantee showing that the local minimum gives a good solution.
  • Convex relaxation such as L1-regularization that solves the problem under some conditions. However it often leads to a sub-optimal solution in reality.
This paper tries to remedy the above gap between theory and practice. In particular, we present a multi-stage convex relaxation scheme for solving problems with non-convex objective functions. For learning formulations with sparse regularization, we analyze the behavior of a specific multi-stage relaxation scheme. Under appropriate conditions, we show that the local solution obtained by this procedure is superior to the global solution of the standard L1 convex relaxation for learning sparse targets.