Dynamic Regret of Convex and Smooth Functions

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

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Peng Zhao, Yu-Jie Zhang, Lijun Zhang, Zhi-Hua Zhou


We investigate online convex optimization in non-stationary environments and choose the dynamic regret as the performance measure, defined as the difference between cumulative loss incurred by the online algorithm and that of any feasible comparator sequence. Let $T$ be the time horizon and $P_T$ be the path-length that essentially reflects the non-stationarity of environments, the state-of-the-art dynamic regret is $\mathcal{O}(\sqrt{T(1+P_T)})$. Although this bound is proved to be minimax optimal for convex functions, in this paper, we demonstrate that it is possible to further enhance the dynamic regret by exploiting the smoothness condition. Specifically, we propose novel online algorithms that are capable of leveraging smoothness and replace the dependence on $T$ in the dynamic regret by problem-dependent quantities: the variation in gradients of loss functions, the cumulative loss of the comparator sequence, and the minimum of the previous two terms. These quantities are at most $\mathcal{O}(T)$ while could be much smaller in benign environments. Therefore, our results are adaptive to the intrinsic difficulty of the problem, since the bounds are tighter than existing results for easy problems and meanwhile guarantee the same rate in the worst case.