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Decentralized SGD and Average-direction SAM are Asymptotically Equivalent

Tongtian Zhu · Fengxiang He · Kaixuan Chen · Mingli Song · Dacheng Tao

Exhibit Hall 1 #233

Abstract: Decentralized stochastic gradient descent (D-SGD) allows collaborative learning on massive devices simultaneously without the control of a central server. However, existing theories claim that decentralization invariably undermines generalization. In this paper, we challenge the conventional belief and present a completely new perspective for understanding decentralized learning. We prove that D-SGD implicitly minimizes the loss function of an average-direction Sharpness-aware minimization (SAM) algorithm under general non-convex non-$\beta$-smooth settings. This surprising asymptotic equivalence reveals an intrinsic regularization-optimization trade-off and three advantages of decentralization: (1) there exists a free uncertainty evaluation mechanism in D-SGD to improve posterior estimation; (2) D-SGD exhibits a gradient smoothing effect; and (3) the sharpness regularization effect of D-SGD does not decrease as total batch size increases, which justifies the potential generalization benefit of D-SGD over centralized SGD (C-SGD) in large-batch scenarios.

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