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Liam Collins, Advait Parulekar, Aryan Mokhtari, Sujay Sanghavi, Sanjay Shakkottai

A striking property of transformers is their ability to perform in-context learning (ICL), a machine learning framework in which the learner is presented with a novel context during inference implicitly through some data, and tasked with making a prediction in that context. As such that learner must adapt to the context without additional training. We explore the role of softmax attention in an ICL setting where each context encodes a regression task. We show that an attention unit learns a window that it uses to implement a nearest-neighbors predictor adapted to the landscape of the pretraining tasks. Specifically, we show that this window widens with decreasing Lipschitzness and increasing label noise in the pretraining tasks. We also show that on low-rank, linear problems, the attention unit learns to project onto the appropriate subspace before inference. Further, we show that this adaptivity relies crucially on the softmax activation and thus cannot be replicated by the linear activation often studied in prior theoretical analyses.

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Jincheng Cao, Ruichen Jiang, Erfan Yazdandoost Hamedani, Aryan Mokhtari

In this paper, we focus on simple bilevel optimization problems, where we minimize a convex smooth objective function over the optimal solution set of another convex smooth constrained optimization problem. We present a novel bilevel optimization method that locally approximates the solution set of the lower-level problem using a cutting plane approach and employs an accelerated gradient-based update to reduce the upper-level objective function over the approximated solution set. We measure the performance of our method in terms of suboptimality and infeasibility errors and provide non-asymptotic convergence guarantees for both error criteria. Specifically, when the feasible set is compact, we show that our method requires at most $\mathcal{O}(\max\{1/\sqrt{\epsilon_{f}}, 1/\epsilon_g\})$ iterations to find a solution that is $\epsilon_f$-suboptimal and $\epsilon_g$-infeasible. Moreover, under the additional assumption that the lower-level objective satisfies the $r$-th H\"olderian error bound, we show that our method achieves an iteration complexity of $\mathcal{O}(\max\{\epsilon_{f}^{-\frac{2r-1}{2r}},\epsilon_{g}^{-\frac{2r-1}{2r}}\})$, which matches the optimal complexity of single-level convex constrained optimization when $r=1$.

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Ruichen Jiang, Parameswaran Raman, Shoham Sabach, Aryan Mokhtari, Mingyi Hong, Volkan Cevher

Second-order optimization methods, such as cubic regularized Newton methods, are known for their rapid convergence rates; nevertheless, they become impractical in high-dimensional problems due to their substantial memory requirements and computational costs. One promising approach is to execute second-order updates within a lower-dimensional subspace, giving rise to subspace second-order methods. However, the majority of existing subspace second-order methods randomly select subspaces, consequently resulting in slower convergence rates depending on the problem's dimension $d$. In this paper, we introduce a novel subspace cubic regularized Newton method that achieves a dimension-independent global convergence rate of ${O}\left(\frac{1}{mk}+\frac{1}{k^2}\right)$ for solving convex optimization problems. Here, $m$ represents the subspace dimension, which can be significantly smaller than $d$. Instead of adopting a random subspace, our primary innovation involves performing the cubic regularized Newton update within the Krylov subspace associated with the Hessian and the gradient of the objective function. This result marks the first instance of a dimension-independent convergence rate for a subspace second-order method. Furthermore, when specific spectral conditions of the Hessian are met, our method recovers the convergence rate of a full-dimensional cubic regularized Newton method. Numerical experiments show our method converges faster than existing random subspace methods, especially for high-dimensional problems.

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Jincheng Cao, Ruichen Jiang, Nazanin Abolfazli, Erfan Yazdandoost Hamedani, Aryan Mokhtari

In this paper, we study a class of stochastic bilevel optimization problems, also known as stochastic simple bilevel optimization, where we minimize a smooth stochastic objective function over the optimal solution set of another stochastic convex optimization problem. We introduce novel stochastic bilevel optimization methods that locally approximate the solution set of the lower-level problem via a stochastic cutting plane, and then run a conditional gradient update with variance reduction techniques to control the error induced by using stochastic gradients. For the case that the upper-level function is convex, our method requires $\tilde{\mathcal{O}}(\max\{1/\epsilon_f^{2},1/\epsilon_g^{2}\}) $ stochastic oracle queries to obtain a solution that is $\epsilon_f$-optimal for the upper-level and $\epsilon_g$-optimal for the lower-level. This guarantee improves the previous best-known complexity of $\mathcal{O}(\max\{1/\epsilon_f^{4},1/\epsilon_g^{4}\})$. Moreover, for the case that the upper-level function is non-convex, our method requires at most $\tilde{\mathcal{O}}(\max\{1/\epsilon_f^{3},1/\epsilon_g^{3}\}) $ stochastic oracle queries to find an $(\epsilon_f, \epsilon_g)$-stationary point. In the finite-sum setting, we show that the number of stochastic oracle calls required by our method are $\tilde{\mathcal{O}}(\sqrt{n}/\epsilon)$ and $\tilde{\mathcal{O}}(\sqrt{n}/\epsilon^{2})$ for the convex and non-convex settings, respectively, where $\epsilon=\min \{\epsilon_f,\epsilon_g\}$.

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Liam Collins, Hamed Hassani, Mahdi Soltanolkotabi, Aryan Mokhtari, Sanjay Shakkottai

Feature learning, i.e. extracting meaningful representations of data, is quintessential to the practical success of neural networks trained with gradient descent, yet it is notoriously difficult to explain how and why it occurs. Recent theoretical studies have shown that shallow neural networks optimized on a single task with gradient-based methods can learn meaningful features, extending our understanding beyond the neural tangent kernel or random feature regime in which negligible feature learning occurs. But in practice, neural networks are increasingly often trained on {\em many} tasks simultaneously with differing loss functions, and these prior analyses do not generalize to such settings. In the multi-task learning setting, a variety of studies have shown effective feature learning by simple linear models. However, multi-task learning via {\em nonlinear} models, arguably the most common learning paradigm in practice, remains largely mysterious. In this work, we present the first results proving feature learning occurs in a multi-task setting with a nonlinear model. We show that when the tasks are binary classification problems with labels depending on only $r$ directions within the ambient $d\gg r$-dimensional input space, executing a simple gradient-based multitask learning algorithm on a two-layer ReLU neural network learns the ground-truth $r$ directions. In particular, any downstream task on the $r$ ground-truth coordinates can be solved by learning a linear classifier with sample and neuron complexity independent of the ambient dimension $d$, while a random feature model requires exponential complexity in $d$ for such a guarantee.

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Zhan Gao, Aryan Mokhtari, Alec Koppel

Non-asymptotic convergence analysis of quasi-Newton methods has gained attention with a landmark result establishing an explicit superlinear rate of O$((1/\sqrt{t})^t)$. The methods that obtain this rate, however, exhibit a well-known drawback: they require the storage of the previous Hessian approximation matrix or instead storing all past curvature information to form the current Hessian inverse approximation. Limited-memory variants of quasi-Newton methods such as the celebrated L-BFGS alleviate this issue by leveraging a limited window of past curvature information to construct the Hessian inverse approximation. As a result, their per iteration complexity and storage requirement is O$(\tau d)$ where $\tau \le d$ is the size of the window and $d$ is the problem dimension reducing the O$(d^2)$ computational cost and memory requirement of standard quasi-Newton methods. However, to the best of our knowledge, there is no result showing a non-asymptotic superlinear convergence rate for any limited-memory quasi-Newton method. In this work, we close this gap by presenting a limited-memory greedy BFGS (LG-BFGS) method that achieves an explicit non-asymptotic superlinear rate. We incorporate displacement aggregation, i.e., decorrelating projection, in post-processing gradient variations, together with a basis vector selection scheme on variable variations, which greedily maximizes a progress measure of the Hessian estimate to the true Hessian. Their combination allows past curvature information to remain in a sparse subspace while yielding a valid representation of the full history. Interestingly, our established non-asymptotic superlinear convergence rate demonstrates a trade-off between the convergence speed and memory requirement, which to our knowledge, is the first of its kind. Numerical results corroborate our theoretical findings and demonstrate the effectiveness of our method.

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Ruichen Jiang, Aryan Mokhtari

In this paper, we propose an accelerated quasi-Newton proximal extragradient (A-QPNE) method for solving unconstrained smooth convex optimization problems. With access only to the gradients of the objective, we prove that our method can achieve a convergence rate of ${O}\bigl(\min\{\frac{1}{k^2}, \frac{\sqrt{d\log k}}{k^{2.5}}\}\bigr)$, where $d$ is the problem dimension and $k$ is the number of iterations. In particular, in the regime where $k = {O}(d)$, our method matches the optimal rate of ${O}(\frac{1}{k^2})$ by Nesterov's accelerated gradient (NAG). Moreover, in the the regime where $k = \Omega(d \log d)$, it outperforms NAG and converges at a faster rate of ${O}\bigl(\frac{\sqrt{d\log k}}{k^{2.5}}\bigr)$. To the best of our knowledge, this result is the first to demonstrate a provable gain of a quasi-Newton-type method over NAG in the convex setting. To achieve such results, we build our method on a recent variant of the Monteiro-Svaiter acceleration framework and adopt an online learning perspective to update the Hessian approximation matrices, in which we relate the convergence rate of our method to the dynamic regret of a specific online convex optimization problem in the space of matrices.

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Nived Rajaraman, Devvrit, Aryan Mokhtari, Kannan Ramchandran

Pruning schemes have been widely used in practice to reduce the complexity of trained models with a massive number of parameters. Several practical studies have shown that pruning an overparameterized model and fine-tuning generalizes well to new samples. Although the above pipeline, which we refer to as pruning + fine-tuning, has been extremely successful in lowering the complexity of trained models, there is very little known about the theory behind this success. In this paper we address this issue by investigating the pruning + fine-tuning framework on the overparameterized matrix sensing problem, with the ground truth denoted $U_\star \in \mathbb{R}^{d \times r}$ and the overparameterized model $U \in \mathbb{R}^{d \times k}$ with $k \gg r$. We study the approximate local minima of the empirical mean square error, augmented with a smooth version of a group Lasso regularizer, $\sum_{i=1}^k \| U e_i \|_2$ and show that pruning the low $\ell_2$-norm columns results in a solution $U_{\text{prune}}$ which has the minimum number of columns $r$, yet is close to the ground truth in training loss. Initializing the subsequent fine-tuning phase from $U_{\text{prune}}$, the resulting solution converges linearly to a generalization error of $O(\sqrt{rd/n})$ ignoring lower order terms, which is statistically optimal. While our analysis provides insights into the role of regularization in pruning, we also show that running gradient descent in the absence of regularization results in models which {are not suitable for greedy pruning}, i.e., many columns could have their $\ell_2$ norm comparable to that of the maximum. Lastly, we extend our results for the training and pruning of two-layer neural networks with quadratic activation functions. Our results provide the first rigorous insights on why greedy pruning + fine-tuning leads to smaller models which also generalize well.

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Ruichen Jiang, Qiujiang Jin, Aryan Mokhtari

Quasi-Newton algorithms are among the most popular iterative methods for solving unconstrained minimization problems, largely due to their favorable superlinear convergence property. However, existing results for these algorithms are limited as they provide either (i) a global convergence guarantee with an asymptotic superlinear convergence rate, or (ii) a local non-asymptotic superlinear rate for the case that the initial point and the initial Hessian approximation are chosen properly. Furthermore, these results are not composable, since when the iterates of the globally convergent methods reach the region of local superlinear convergence, it cannot be guaranteed the Hessian approximation matrix will satisfy the required conditions for a non-asymptotic local superlienar convergence rate. In this paper, we close this gap and present the first globally convergent quasi-Newton method with an explicit non-asymptotic superlinear convergence rate. Unlike classical quasi-Newton methods, we build our algorithm upon the hybrid proximal extragradient method and propose a novel online learning framework for updating the Hessian approximation matrices. Specifically, guided by the convergence analysis, we formulate the Hessian approximation update as an online convex optimization problem in the space of matrices, and relate the bounded regret of the online problem to the superlinear convergence of our method.

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