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How to Escape Saddle Points Efficiently
Chi Jin · Rong Ge · Praneeth Netrapalli · Sham Kakade · Michael Jordan

Mon Aug 07 11:42 PM -- 12:00 AM (PDT) @ Parkside 2

This paper shows that a perturbed form of gradient descent converges to a second-order stationary point in a number iterations which depends only poly-logarithmically on dimension (i.e., it is almost ``dimension-free''). The convergence rate of this procedure matches the well-known convergence rate of gradient descent to first-order stationary points, up to log factors. When all saddle points are non-degenerate, all second-order stationary points are local minima, and our result thus shows that perturbed gradient descent can escape saddle points almost for free. Our results can be directly applied to many machine learning applications, including deep learning. As a particular concrete example of such an application, we show that our results can be used directly to establish sharp global convergence rates for matrix factorization. Our results rely on a novel characterization of the geometry around saddle points, which may be of independent interest to the non-convex optimization community.

Author Information

Chi Jin (UC Berkeley)
Rong Ge (Duke University)
Praneeth Netrapalli (Microsoft Research)
Sham Kakade (University of Washington)

Sham Kakade is a Washington Research Foundation Data Science Chair, with a joint appointment in the Department of Computer Science and the Department of Statistics at the University of Washington, and is a co-director for the Algorithmic Foundations of Data Science Institute. He works on the mathematical foundations of machine learning and AI. Sham's thesis helped in laying the foundations of the PAC-MDP framework for reinforcement learning. With his collaborators, his additional contributions include: one of the first provably efficient policy search methods, Conservative Policy Iteration, for reinforcement learning; developing the mathematical foundations for the widely used linear bandit models and the Gaussian process bandit models; the tensor and spectral methodologies for provable estimation of latent variable models (applicable to mixture of Gaussians, HMMs, and LDA); the first sharp analysis of the perturbed gradient descent algorithm, along with the design and analysis of numerous other convex and non-convex algorithms. He is the recipient of the IBM Goldberg best paper award (in 2007) for contributions to fast nearest neighbor search and the best paper, INFORMS Revenue Management and Pricing Section Prize (2014). He has been program chair for COLT 2011. Sham was an undergraduate at Caltech, where he studied physics and worked under the guidance of John Preskill in quantum computing. He then completed his Ph.D. in computational neuroscience at the Gatsby Unit at University College London, under the supervision of Peter Dayan. He was a postdoc at the Dept. of Computer Science, University of Pennsylvania , where he broadened his studies to include computational game theory and economics from the guidance of Michael Kearns. Sham has been a Principal Research Scientist at Microsoft Research, New England, an associate professor at the Department of Statistics, Wharton, UPenn, and an assistant professor at the Toyota Technological Institute at Chicago.

Michael Jordan (UC Berkeley)

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