Overparameterized Nonlinear Learning: Gradient Descent Takes the Shortest Path?


Samet Oymak, Mahdi Soltanolkotabi ;
Proceedings of the 36th International Conference on Machine Learning, PMLR 97:4951-4960, 2019.


Many modern learning tasks involve fitting nonlinear models which are trained in an overparameterized regime where the parameters of the model exceed the size of the training dataset. Due to this overparameterization, the training loss may have infinitely many global minima and it is critical to understand the properties of the solutions found by first-order optimization schemes such as (stochastic) gradient descent starting from different initializations. In this paper we demonstrate that when the loss has certain properties over a minimally small neighborhood of the initial point, first order methods such as (stochastic) gradient descent have a few intriguing properties: (1) the iterates converge at a geometric rate to a global optima even when the loss is nonconvex, (2) among all global optima of the loss the iterates converge to one with a near minimal distance to the initial point, (3) the iterates take a near direct route from the initial point to this global optimum. As part of our proof technique, we introduce a new potential function which captures the tradeoff between the loss function and the distance to the initial point as the iterations progress. The utility of our general theory is demonstrated for a variety of problem domains spanning low-rank matrix recovery to shallow neural network training.

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