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# On Finding Small Hyper-Gradients in Bilevel Optimization: Hardness Results and Improved Analysis

*Proceedings of Thirty Seventh Conference on Learning Theory*, PMLR 247:947-980, 2024.

#### Abstract

Bilevel optimization reveals the inner structure of otherwise oblique optimization problems, such as hyperparameter tuning, neural architecture search, and meta-learning. A common goal in bilevel optimization is to minimize a hyper-objective that implicitly depends on the solution set of the lower-level function. Although this hyper-objective approach is widely used, its theoretical properties have not been thoroughly investigated in cases where \textit{the lower-level functions lack strong convexity}. In this work, we first provide hardness results to show that the goal of finding stationary points of the hyper-objective for nonconvex-convex bilevel optimization can be intractable for zero-respecting algorithms. Then we study a class of tractable nonconvex-nonconvex bilevel problems when the lower-level function satisfies the Polyak-Ł{}ojasiewicz (PL) condition. We show a simple first-order algorithm can achieve complexity bounds of $\tilde{\mathcal{O}}(\epsilon^{-2})$, $\tilde{\mathcal{O}}(\epsilon^{-4})$ and $\tilde{\mathcal{O}}(\epsilon^{-6})$ in the deterministic, partially stochastic, and fully stochastic setting respectively.