High probability generalization bounds for uniformly stable algorithms with nearly optimal rate


Vitaly Feldman, Jan Vondrak ;
Proceedings of the Thirty-Second Conference on Learning Theory, PMLR 99:1270-1279, 2019.


Algorithmic stability is a classical approach to understanding and analysis of the generalization error of learning algorithms. A notable weakness of most stability-based generalization bounds is that they hold only in expectation. Generalization with high probability has been established in a landmark paper of Bousquet and Elisseeff (2001) albeit at the expense of an additional $\sqrt{n}$ factor in the bound. Specifically, their bound on the estimation error of any $\gamma$-uniformly stable learning algorithm on $n$ samples and range in $[0,1]$ is $O(\gamma \sqrt{n \log(1/\delta)} + \sqrt{\log(1/\delta)/n})$ with probability $\geq 1-\delta$. The $\sqrt{n}$ overhead makes the bound vacuous in the common settings where $\gamma \geq 1/\sqrt{n}$. A stronger bound was recently proved by the authors (Feldman and Vondrak, 2018) that reduces the overhead to at most $O(n^{1/4})$. Still, both of these results give optimal generalization bounds only when $\gamma = O(1/n)$. We prove a nearly tight bound of $O(\gamma \log(n)\log(n/\delta) + \sqrt{\log(1/\delta)/n})$ on the estimation error of any $\gamma$-uniformly stable algorithm. It implies that for algorithms that are uniformly stable with $\gamma = O(1/\sqrt{n})$, estimation error is essentially the same as the sampling error. Our result leads to the first high-probability generalization bounds for multi-pass stochastic gradient descent and regularized ERM for stochastic convex problems with nearly optimal rate — resolving open problems in prior work. Our proof technique is new and we introduce several analysis tools that might find additional applications.

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