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# Double Variance Reduction: A Smoothing Trick for Composite Optimization Problems without First-Order Gradient

*Proceedings of the 41st International Conference on Machine Learning*, PMLR 235:10792-10810, 2024.

#### Abstract

Variance reduction techniques are designed to decrease the sampling variance, thereby accelerating convergence rates of first-order (FO) and zeroth-order (ZO) optimization methods. However, in composite optimization problems, ZO methods encounter an additional variance called the coordinate-wise variance, which stems from the random gradient estimation. To reduce this variance, prior works require estimating all partial derivatives, essentially approximating FO information. This approach demands $\mathcal{O}(d)$ function evaluations ($d$ is the dimension size), which incurs substantial computational costs and is prohibitive in high-dimensional scenarios. This paper proposes the Zeroth-order Proximal Double Variance Reduction ($\texttt{ZPDVR}$) method, which utilizes the averaging trick to reduce both sampling and coordinate-wise variances. Compared to prior methods, $\texttt{ZPDVR}$ relies solely on random gradient estimates, calls the stochastic zeroth-order oracle (SZO) in expectation $\mathcal{O}(1)$ times per iteration, and achieves the optimal $\mathcal{O}(d(n + \kappa)\log (\frac{1}{\epsilon}))$ SZO query complexity in the strongly convex and smooth setting, where $\kappa$ represents the condition number and $\epsilon$ is the desired accuracy. Empirical results validate $\texttt{ZPDVR}$’s linear convergence and demonstrate its superior performance over other related methods.