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# Zeroth-order Optimization with Weak Dimension Dependency

*Proceedings of Thirty Sixth Conference on Learning Theory*, PMLR 195:4429-4472, 2023.

#### Abstract

Zeroth-order optimization is a fundamental research topic that has been a focus of various learning tasks, such as black-box adversarial attacks, bandits, and reinforcement learning. However, in theory, most complexity results assert a linear dependency on the dimension of optimization variable, which implies paralyzations of zeroth-order algorithms for high-dimensional problems and cannot explain their effectiveness in practice. In this paper, we present a novel zeroth-order optimization theory characterized by complexities that exhibit weak dependencies on dimensionality. The key contribution lies in the introduction of a new factor, denoted as $\effdim_{\alpha} = \sup_{\x\in \mathbb{R}^d} \sum_{i=1}^d \sigma_i^\alpha(\nabla^2 f(\x))$ ($\alpha>0$, $\sigma_i(\cdot)$ is the $i$-th singular value in non-increasing order), which effectively functions as a measure of dimensionality. The algorithms we propose demonstrate significantly reduced complexities when measured in terms of the factor $\effdim_{\alpha}$. Specifically, we first study a well-known zeroth-order algorithm from Nesterov and Spokoiny (2017) on quadratic objectives and show a complexity of $ \mathcal{O}\left(\frac{\effdim_1 }{\sigma_d}\log(1/\epsilon)\right) $ for the strongly convex setting. For linear regression, such a complexity is dimension-free and outperforms the traditional result by a factor of $d$ under common conditions. Furthermore, we introduce novel algorithms that leverages the Heavy-ball mechanism to enhance the optimization process. By incorporating this acceleration scheme, our proposed algorithm exhibits a complexity of $ \mathcal{O}\left(\frac{\effdim_{1/2} }{\sqrt{\sigma_d}}\cdot\log{\frac{L}{\mu}}\cdot\log(1/\epsilon)\right) $. For linear regression, under some mild conditions, it is faster than state-of-the-art algorithms by $\sqrt{d}$. We further expand the scope of the method to encompass generic smooth optimization problems, while incorporating an additional Hessian-smooth condition. By considering this extended framework, our approach becomes applicable to a broader range of optimization scenarios. The resultant algorithms demonstrate remarkable complexities, with dimension-independent dominant terms that surpass existing algorithms by an order in $d$ under appropriate conditions. Our analysis lays the foundation for investigating zeroth-order optimization methods for smooth functions within high-dimensional settings.