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# How Free is Parameter-Free Stochastic Optimization?

*Proceedings of the 41st International Conference on Machine Learning*, PMLR 235:2009-2034, 2024.

#### Abstract

We study the problem of parameter-free stochastic optimization, inquiring whether, and under what conditions, do fully parameter-free methods exist: these are methods that achieve convergence rates competitive with optimally tuned methods, without requiring significant knowledge of the true problem parameters. Existing parameter-free methods can only be considered “partially” parameter-free, as they require some non-trivial knowledge of the true problem parameters, such as a bound on the stochastic gradient norms, a bound on the distance to a minimizer, etc. In the non-convex setting, we demonstrate that a simple hyperparameter search technique results in a fully parameter-free method that outperforms more sophisticated state-of-the-art algorithms. We also provide a similar result in the convex setting with access to noisy function values under mild noise assumptions. Finally, assuming only access to stochastic gradients, we establish a lower bound that renders fully parameter-free stochastic convex optimization infeasible, and provide a method which is (partially) parameter-free up to the limit indicated by our lower bound.