Stochastic Nested Variance Reduction for Nonconvex Optimization

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 31 (NeurIPS 2018)

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Dongruo Zhou, Pan Xu, Quanquan Gu


We study finite-sum nonconvex optimization problems, where the objective function is an average of $n$ nonconvex functions. We propose a new stochastic gradient descent algorithm based on nested variance reduction. Compared with conventional stochastic variance reduced gradient (SVRG) algorithm that uses two reference points to construct a semi-stochastic gradient with diminishing variance in each iteration, our algorithm uses $K+1$ nested reference points to build a semi-stochastic gradient to further reduce its variance in each iteration. For smooth nonconvex functions, the proposed algorithm converges to an $\epsilon$-approximate first-order stationary point (i.e., $\|\nabla F(\mathbf{x})\|_2\leq \epsilon$) within $\tilde O(n\land \epsilon^{-2}+\epsilon^{-3}\land n^{1/2}\epsilon^{-2})$\footnote{$\tilde O(\cdot)$ hides the logarithmic factors, and $a\land b$ means $\min(a,b)$.} number of stochastic gradient evaluations. This improves the best known gradient complexity of SVRG $O(n+n^{2/3}\epsilon^{-2})$ and that of SCSG $O(n\land \epsilon^{-2}+\epsilon^{-10/3}\land n^{2/3}\epsilon^{-2})$. For gradient dominated functions, our algorithm also achieves better gradient complexity than the state-of-the-art algorithms. Thorough experimental results on different nonconvex optimization problems back up our theory.