Direction-oriented Multi-objective Learning: Simple and Provable Stochastic Algorithms

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 36 (NeurIPS 2023) Main Conference Track

Bibtex Paper Supplemental


Peiyao Xiao, Hao Ban, Kaiyi Ji


Multi-objective optimization (MOO) has become an influential framework in many machine learning problems with multiple objectives such as learning with multiple criteria and multi-task learning (MTL). In this paper, we propose a new direction-oriented multi-objective formulation by regularizing the common descent direction within a neighborhood of a direction that optimizes a linear combination of objectives such as the average loss in MTL or a weighted loss that places higher emphasis on some tasks than the others. This formulation includes GD and MGDA as special cases, enjoys the direction-oriented benefit as in CAGrad, and facilitates the design of stochastic algorithms. To solve this problem, we propose Stochastic Direction-oriented Multi-objective Gradient descent (SDMGrad) with simple SGD type of updates, and its variant SDMGrad-OS with an efficient objective sampling. We develop a comprehensive convergence analysis for the proposed methods with different loop sizes and regularization coefficients. We show that both SDMGrad and SDMGrad-OS achieve improved sample complexities to find an $\epsilon$-accurate Pareto stationary point while achieving a small $\epsilon$-level distance toward a conflict-avoidant (CA) direction. For a constant-level CA distance, their sample complexities match the best known $\mathcal{O}(\epsilon^{-2})$ without bounded function value assumption. Extensive experiments show that our methods achieve competitive or improved performance compared to existing gradient manipulation approaches in a series of tasks on multi-task supervised learning and reinforcement learning. Code is available at