Sparse Online Learning via Truncated Gradient

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 21 (NIPS 2008)

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John Langford, Lihong Li, Tong Zhang


We propose a general method called truncated gradient to induce sparsity in the weights of online-learning algorithms with convex loss. This method has several essential properties. First, the degree of sparsity is continuous---a parameter controls the rate of sparsification from no sparsification to total sparsification. Second, the approach is theoretically motivated, and an instance of it can be regarded as an online counterpart of the popular $L_1$-regularization method in the batch setting. We prove that small rates of sparsification result in only small additional regret with respect to typical online-learning guarantees. Finally, the approach works well empirically. We apply it to several datasets and find that for datasets with large numbers of features, substantial sparsity is discoverable.