Bad Global Minima Exist and SGD Can Reach Them

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 33 (NeurIPS 2020)

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Shengchao Liu, Dimitris Papailiopoulos, Dimitris Achlioptas


Several works have aimed to explain why overparameterized neural networks generalize well when trained by Stochastic Gradient Descent (SGD). The consensus explanation that has emerged credits the randomized nature of SGD for the bias of the training process towards low-complexity models and, thus, for implicit regularization. We take a careful look at this explanation in the context of image classification with common deep neural network architectures. We find that if we do not regularize \emph{explicitly}, then SGD can be easily made to converge to poorly-generalizing, high-complexity models: all it takes is to first train on a random labeling on the data, before switching to properly training with the correct labels. In contrast, we find that in the presence of explicit regularization, pretraining with random labels has no detrimental effect on SGD. We believe that our results give evidence that explicit regularization plays a far more important role in the success of overparameterized neural networks than what has been understood until now. Specifically, in suppressing complicated models that got lucky with the training data, regularization not only makes simple models that fit the data well the global optima, but it also clears the way to make them discoverable by local methods, such as SGD.