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Gradient Methods Never Overfit On Separable Data

Ohad Shamir; 22(85):1−20, 2021.


A line of recent works established that when training linear predictors over separable data, using gradient methods and exponentially-tailed losses, the predictors asymptotically converge in direction to the max-margin predictor. As a consequence, the predictors asymptotically do not overfit. However, this does not address the question of whether overfitting might occur non-asymptotically, after some bounded number of iterations. In this paper, we formally show that standard gradient methods (in particular, gradient flow, gradient descent and stochastic gradient descent) *never* overfit on separable data: If we run these methods for $T$ iterations on a dataset of size $m$, both the empirical risk and the generalization error decrease at an essentially optimal rate of $\tilde{\mathcal{O}}(1/\gamma^2 T)$ up till $T\approx m$, at which point the generalization error remains fixed at an essentially optimal level of $\tilde{\mathcal{O}}(1/\gamma^2 m)$ regardless of how large $T$ is. Along the way, we present non-asymptotic bounds on the number of margin violations over the dataset, and prove their tightness.

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