Noise and Fluctuation of Finite Learning Rate Stochastic Gradient Descent
Proceedings of the 38th International Conference on Machine Learning, PMLR 139:7045-7056, 2021.
In the vanishing learning rate regime, stochastic gradient descent (SGD) is now relatively well understood. In this work, we propose to study the basic properties of SGD and its variants in the non-vanishing learning rate regime. The focus is on deriving exactly solvable results and discussing their implications. The main contributions of this work are to derive the stationary distribution for discrete-time SGD in a quadratic loss function with and without momentum; in particular, one implication of our result is that the fluctuation caused by discrete-time dynamics takes a distorted shape and is dramatically larger than a continuous-time theory could predict. Examples of applications of the proposed theory considered in this work include the approximation error of variants of SGD, the effect of minibatch noise, the optimal Bayesian inference, the escape rate from a sharp minimum, and the stationary covariance of a few second-order methods including damped Newton’s method, natural gradient descent, and Adam.