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# Characterizing the implicit bias via a primal-dual analysis

*Proceedings of the 32nd International Conference on Algorithmic Learning Theory*, PMLR 132:772-804, 2021.

#### Abstract

This paper shows that the implicit bias of gradient descent on linearly separable data is exactly characterized by the optimal solution of a dual optimization problem given by a smoothed margin, even for general losses. This is in contrast to prior results, which are often tailored to exponentially-tailed losses. For the exponential loss specifically, with $n$ training examples and $t$ gradient descent steps, our dual analysis further allows us to prove an $O\del{\ln(n)/\ln(t)}$ convergence rate to the $\ell_2$ maximum margin direction, when a constant step size is used. This rate is tight in both $n$ and $t$, which has not been presented by prior work. On the other hand, with a properly chosen but aggressive step size schedule, we prove $O(1/t)$ rates for both $\ell_2$ margin maximization and implicit bias, whereas prior work (including all first-order methods for the general hard-margin linear SVM problem) proved $\widetilde{O}(1/\sqrt{t})$ margin rates, or $O(1/t)$ margin rates to a suboptimal margin, with an implied (slower) bias rate. Our key observations include that gradient descent on the primal variable naturally induces a mirror descent update on the dual variable, and that the dual objective in this setting is smooth enough to give a faster rate.