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Zhuoping Zhou, Davoud Ataee Tarzanagh, Bojian Hou, Boning Tong, Jia Xu, Yanbo Feng, Qi Long, Li Shen

This paper investigates fairness and bias in Canonical Correlation Analysis (CCA), a widely used statistical technique for examining the relationship between two sets of variables. We present a framework that alleviates unfairness by minimizing the correlation disparity error associated with protected attributes. Our approach enables CCA to learn global projection matrices from all data points while ensuring that these matrices yield comparable correlation levels to group-specific projection matrices. Experimental evaluation on both synthetic and real-world datasets demonstrates the efficacy of our method in reducing correlation disparity error without compromising CCA accuracy.

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Davoud Ataee Tarzanagh, Yingcong Li, Christos Thrampoulidis, Samet Oymak

Since its inception in "Attention Is All You Need", transformer architecture has led to revolutionary advancements in NLP. The attention layer within the transformer admits a sequence of input tokens $X$ and makes them interact through pairwise similarities computed as softmax$(XQK^\top X^\top)$, where $(K,Q)$ are the trainable key-query parameters. In this work, we establish a formal equivalence between the optimization geometry of self-attention and a hard-margin SVM problem that separates optimal input tokens from non-optimal tokens using linear constraints on the outer-products of token pairs. This formalism allows us to characterize the implicit bias of 1-layer transformers optimized with gradient descent: (1) Optimizing the attention layer with vanishing regularization, parameterized by $(K,Q)$, converges in direction to an SVM solution minimizing the nuclear norm of the combined parameter $W=KQ^\top$. Instead, directly parameterizing by $W$ minimizes a Frobenius norm objective. We characterize this convergence, highlighting that it can occur toward locally-optimal directions rather than global ones. (2) Complementing this, we prove the local/global directional convergence of gradient descent under suitable geometric conditions. Importantly, we show that over-parameterization catalyzes global convergence by ensuring the feasibility of the SVM problem and by guaranteeing a benign optimization landscape devoid of stationary points. (3) While our theory applies primarily to linear prediction heads, we propose a more general SVM equivalence that predicts the implicit bias with nonlinear heads. Our findings are applicable to arbitrary datasets and their validity is verified via experiments. We also introduce several open problems and research directions. We believe these findings inspire the interpretation of transformers as a hierarchy of SVMs that separates and selects optimal tokens.

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Davoud Ataee Tarzanagh, Yingcong Li, Xuechen Zhang, Samet Oymak

Attention mechanism is a central component of the transformer architecture which led to the phenomenal success of large language models. However, the theoretical principles underlying the attention mechanism are poorly understood, especially its nonconvex optimization dynamics. In this work, we explore the seminal softmax-attention model $f(\boldsymbol{X})=\langle \boldsymbol{Xv}, \texttt{softmax}(\boldsymbol{XWp})\rangle$, where $\boldsymbol{X}$ is the token sequence and $(\boldsymbol{v},\boldsymbol{W},\boldsymbol{p})$ are trainable parameters. We prove that running gradient descent on $\boldsymbol{p}$, or equivalently $\boldsymbol{W}$, converges in direction to a max-margin solution that separates $\textit{locally-optimal}$ tokens from non-optimal ones. This clearly formalizes attention as an optimal token selection mechanism. Remarkably, our results are applicable to general data and precisely characterize $\textit{optimality}$ of tokens in terms of the value embeddings $\boldsymbol{Xv}$ and problem geometry. We also provide a broader regularization path analysis that establishes the margin maximizing nature of attention even for nonlinear prediction heads. When optimizing $\boldsymbol{v}$ and $\boldsymbol{p}$ simultaneously with logistic loss, we identify conditions under which the regularization paths directionally converge to their respective hard-margin SVM solutions where $\boldsymbol{v}$ separates the input features based on their labels. Interestingly, the SVM formulation of $\boldsymbol{p}$ is influenced by the support vector geometry of $\boldsymbol{v}$. Finally, we verify our theoretical findings via numerical experiments and provide insights.

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Davoud Ataee Tarzanagh, Yingcong Li, Xuechen Zhang, Samet Oymak

Attention mechanism is a central component of the transformer architecture which led to the phenomenal success of large language models. However, the theoretical principles underlying the attention mechanism are poorly understood, especially its nonconvex optimization dynamics. In this work, we explore the seminal softmax-attention model $f(\boldsymbol{X})=\langle \boldsymbol{Xv}, \texttt{softmax}(\boldsymbol{XWp})\rangle$, where, $\boldsymbol{X}$ is the token sequence and $(\boldsymbol{v},\boldsymbol{W},\boldsymbol{p})$ are tunable parameters. We prove that running gradient descent on $\boldsymbol{p}$, or equivalently $\boldsymbol{W}$, converges in direction to a max-margin solution that separates $\textit{locally-optimal}$ tokens from non-optimal ones. This clearly formalizes attention as a token separation mechanism. Remarkably, our results are applicable to general data and precisely characterize $\textit{optimality}$ of tokens in terms of the value embeddings $\boldsymbol{Xv}$ and problem geometry. We also provide a broader regularization path analysis that establishes the margin maximizing nature of attention even for nonlinear prediction heads. When optimizing $\boldsymbol{v}$ and $\boldsymbol{p}$ simultaneously with logistic loss, we identify conditions under which the regularization paths directionally converge to their respective hard-margin SVM solutions where $\boldsymbol{v}$ separates the input features based on their labels. Interestingly, the SVM formulation of $\boldsymbol{p}$ is influenced by the support vector geometry of $\boldsymbol{v}$. Finally, we verify our theoretical findings via numerical experiments and provide insights.

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Davoud Ataee Tarzanagh, Mingchen Li, Pranay Sharma, Samet Oymak

Stochastic approximation with multiple coupled sequences (MSA) has found broad applications in machine learning as it encompasses a rich class of problems including bilevel optimization (BLO), multi-level compositional optimization (MCO), and reinforcement learning (specifically, actor-critic methods). However, designing provably-efficient federated algorithms for MSA has been an elusive question even for the special case of double sequence approximation (DSA). Towards this goal, we develop FedMSA which is the first federated algorithm for MSA, and establish its near-optimal communication complexity. As core novelties, (i) FedMSA enables the provable estimation of hypergradients in BLO and MCO via local client updates, which has been a notable bottleneck in prior theory, and (ii) our convergence guarantees are sensitive to the heterogeneity-level of the problem. We also incorporate momentum and variance reduction techniques to achieve further acceleration leading to near-optimal rates. Finally, we provide experiments that support our theory and demonstrate the empirical benefits of FedMSA. As an example, FedMSA enables order-of-magnitude savings in communication rounds compared to prior federated BLO schemes.

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Parvin Nazari, Ahmad Mousavi, Davoud Ataee Tarzanagh, George Michailidis

Bilevel programming has recently received attention in the literature, due to a wide range of applications, including reinforcement learning and hyper-parameter optimization. However, it is widely assumed that the underlying bilevel optimization problem is solved either by a single machine or in the case of multiple machines connected in a star-shaped network, i.e., federated learning setting. The latter approach suffers from a high communication cost on the central node (e.g., parameter server) and exhibits privacy vulnerabilities. Hence, it is of interest to develop methods that solve bilevel optimization problems in a communication-efficient decentralized manner. To that end, this paper introduces a penalty function based decentralized algorithm with theoretical guarantees for this class of optimization problems. Specifically, a distributed alternating gradient-type algorithm for solving consensus bilevel programming over a decentralized network is developed. A key feature of the proposed algorithm is to estimate the hyper-gradient of the penalty function via decentralized computation of matrix-vector products and few vector communications, which is then integrated within our alternating algorithm to give the finite-time convergence analysis under different convexity assumptions. Owing to the generality of this complexity analysis, our result yields convergence rates for a wide variety of consensus problems including minimax and compositional optimization. Empirical results on both synthetic and real datasets demonstrate that the proposed method works well in practice.

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Davoud Ataee Tarzanagh, Laura Balzano

Online optimization is a well-established optimization paradigm that aims to make a sequence of correct decisions given knowledge of the correct answer to previous decision tasks. Bilevel programming involves a hierarchical optimization problem where the feasible region of the so-called outer problem is restricted by the graph of the solution set mapping of the inner problem. This paper brings these two ideas together and studies an online bilevel optimization setting in which a sequence of time-varying bilevel problems are revealed one after the other. We extend the known regret bounds for single-level online algorithms to the bilevel setting. Specifically, we introduce new notions of bilevel regret, develop an online alternating time-averaged gradient method that is capable of leveraging smoothness, and provide regret bounds in terms of the path-length of the inner and outer minimizer sequences.

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Davoud Ataee Tarzanagh, Mingchen Li, Christos Thrampoulidis, Samet Oymak

Standard federated optimization methods successfully apply to stochastic problems with single-level structure. However, many contemporary ML problems -- including adversarial robustness, hyperparameter tuning, and actor-critic -- fall under nested bilevel programming that subsumes minimax and compositional optimization. In this work, we propose FEDNEST: A federated alternating stochastic gradient method to address general nested problems. We establish provable convergence rates for FEDNEST in the presence of heterogeneous data and introduce variations for bilevel, minimax, and compositional optimization. FEDNEST introduces multiple innovations including federated hypergradient computation and variance reduction to address inner-level heterogeneity. We complement our theory with experiments on hyperparameter \& hyper-representation learning and minimax optimization that demonstrate the benefits of our method in practice. Code is available at https://github.com/mc-nya/FedNest.

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