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Stochastic Nested Variance Reduction for Nonconvex Optimization

Dongruo Zhou, Pan Xu, Quanquan Gu; 21(103):1−63, 2020.


We study nonconvex optimization problems, where the objective function is either an average of $n$ nonconvex functions or the expectation of some stochastic function. We propose a new stochastic gradient descent algorithm based on nested variance reduction, namely, Stochastic Nested Variance-Reduced Gradient descent ($\text{SNVRG}$). Compared with conventional stochastic variance reduced gradient ($\text{SVRG}$) algorithm that uses two reference points to construct a semi-stochastic gradient with diminishing variance in each iteration, our algorithm uses $K+1$ nested reference points to build a semi-stochastic gradient to further reduce its variance in each iteration. For smooth nonconvex functions, $\text{SNVRG}$ converges to an $\epsilon$-approximate first-order stationary point within $\tilde O(n\land\epsilon^{-2}+\epsilon^{-3}\land n^{1/2}\epsilon^{-2})$ number of stochastic gradient evaluations. This improves the best known gradient complexity of $\text{SVRG}$ $O(n+n^{2/3}\epsilon^{-2})$ and that of $\text{SCSG}$ $O(n\land \epsilon^{-2}+\epsilon^{-10/3}\land n^{2/3}\epsilon^{-2})$. For gradient dominated functions, $\text{SNVRG}$ also achieves better gradient complexity than the state-of-the-art algorithms. Based on $\text{SNVRG}$, we further propose two algorithms that can find local minima faster than state-of-the-art algorithms in both finite-sum and general stochastic (online) nonconvex optimization. In particular, for finite-sum optimization problems, the proposed $\text{SNVRG}+\text{Neon2}^{\text{finite}}$ algorithm achieves $\tilde{O}(n^{1/2}\epsilon^{-2}+n\epsilon_H^{-3}+n^{3/4}\epsilon_H^{-7/2})$ gradient complexity to converge to an $(\epsilon, \epsilon_H)$-second-order stationary point, which outperforms $\text{SVRG}+\text{Neon2}^{\text{finite}}$ (Allen-Zhu and Li, 2018), the best existing algorithm, in a wide regime. For general stochastic optimization problems, the proposed $\text{SNVRG}+\text{Neon2}^{\text{online}}$ achieves $\tilde{O}(\epsilon^{-3}+\epsilon_H^{-5}+\epsilon^{-2}\epsilon_H^{-3})$ gradient complexity, which is better than both $\text{SVRG}+\text{Neon2}^{\text{online}}$ (Allen-Zhu and Li, 2018) and $\text{Natasha2}$ (Allen-Zhu, 2018a) in certain regimes. Thorough experimental results on different nonconvex optimization problems back up our theory.

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