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Abstract:Optimization of convex functions under stochastic zeroth-order feedback has been a major and challenging question in online learning. In this work, we consider the problem of optimizing second-order smooth and strongly convex functions where the algorithm is only accessible to noisy evaluations of the objective function it queries. We provide the first tight characterization for the rate of the minimax simple regret by developing matching upper and lower bounds. We propose an algorithm that features a combination of a bootstrapping stage and a mirror-descent stage. Our main technical innovation consists of a sharp characterization for the spherical-sampling gradient estimator under higher-order smoothness conditions, which allows the algorithm to optimally balance the bias-variance tradeoff, and a new iterative method for the bootstrapping stage, which maintains the performance for unbounded Hessian.

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Abstract:Empirically, large-scale deep learning models often satisfy a neural scaling law: the test error of the trained model improves polynomially as the model size and data size grow. However, conventional wisdom suggests the test error consists of approximation, bias, and variance errors, where the variance error increases with model size. This disagrees with the general form of neural scaling laws, which predict that increasing model size monotonically improves performance. We study the theory of scaling laws in an infinite dimensional linear regression setup. Specifically, we consider a model with $M$ parameters as a linear function of sketched covariates. The model is trained by one-pass stochastic gradient descent (SGD) using $N$ data. Assuming the optimal parameter satisfies a Gaussian prior and the data covariance matrix has a power-law spectrum of degree $a>1$, we show that the reducible part of the test error is $\Theta(M^{-(a-1)} + N^{-(a-1)/a})$. The variance error, which increases with $M$, is dominated by the other errors due to the implicit regularization of SGD, thus disappearing from the bound. Our theory is consistent with the empirical neural scaling laws and verified by numerical simulation.

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Abstract:The transformer architecture has prevailed in various deep learning settings due to its exceptional capabilities to select and compose structural information. Motivated by these capabilities, Sanford et al. proposed the sparse token selection task, in which transformers excel while fully-connected networks (FCNs) fail in the worst case. Building upon that, we strengthen the FCN lower bound to an average-case setting and establish an algorithmic separation of transformers over FCNs. Specifically, a one-layer transformer trained with gradient descent provably learns the sparse token selection task and, surprisingly, exhibits strong out-of-distribution length generalization. We provide empirical simulations to justify our theoretical findings.

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Abstract:We study the problem of gradient descent learning of a single-index target function $f_*(\boldsymbol{x}) = \textstyle\sigma_*\left(\langle\boldsymbol{x},\boldsymbol{\theta}\rangle\right)$ under isotropic Gaussian data in $\mathbb{R}^d$, where the link function $\sigma_*:\mathbb{R}\to\mathbb{R}$ is an unknown degree $q$ polynomial with information exponent $p$ (defined as the lowest degree in the Hermite expansion). Prior works showed that gradient-based training of neural networks can learn this target with $n\gtrsim d^{\Theta(p)}$ samples, and such statistical complexity is predicted to be necessary by the correlational statistical query lower bound. Surprisingly, we prove that a two-layer neural network optimized by an SGD-based algorithm learns $f_*$ of arbitrary polynomial link function with a sample and runtime complexity of $n \asymp T \asymp C(q) \cdot d\mathrm{polylog} d$, where constant $C(q)$ only depends on the degree of $\sigma_*$, regardless of information exponent; this dimension dependence matches the information theoretic limit up to polylogarithmic factors. Core to our analysis is the reuse of minibatch in the gradient computation, which gives rise to higher-order information beyond correlational queries.

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Authors:Zhaolin Gao, Jonathan D. Chang, Wenhao Zhan, Owen Oertell, Gokul Swamy, Kianté Brantley, Thorsten Joachims, J. Andrew Bagnell, Jason D. Lee, Wen Sun

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Abstract:While originally developed for continuous control problems, Proximal Policy Optimization (PPO) has emerged as the work-horse of a variety of reinforcement learning (RL) applications including the fine-tuning of generative models. Unfortunately, PPO requires multiple heuristics to enable stable convergence (e.g. value networks, clipping) and is notorious for its sensitivity to the precise implementation of these components. In response, we take a step back and ask what a minimalist RL algorithm for the era of generative models would look like. We propose REBEL, an algorithm that cleanly reduces the problem of policy optimization to regressing the relative rewards via a direct policy parameterization between two completions to a prompt, enabling strikingly lightweight implementation. In theory, we prove that fundamental RL algorithms like Natural Policy Gradient can be seen as variants of REBEL, which allows us to match the strongest known theoretical guarantees in terms of convergence and sample complexity in the RL literature. REBEL can also cleanly incorporate offline data and handle the intransitive preferences we frequently see in practice. Empirically, we find that REBEL provides a unified approach to language modeling and image generation with stronger or similar performance as PPO and DPO, all while being simpler to implement and more computationally tractable than PPO.

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Authors:Jonathan D. Chang, Wenhao Zhan, Owen Oertell, Kianté Brantley, Dipendra Misra, Jason D. Lee, Wen Sun

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Abstract:Reinforcement Learning (RL) from Human Preference-based feedback is a popular paradigm for fine-tuning generative models, which has produced impressive models such as GPT-4 and Claude3 Opus. This framework often consists of two steps: learning a reward model from an offline preference dataset followed by running online RL to optimize the learned reward model. In this work, leveraging the idea of reset, we propose a new RLHF algorithm with provable guarantees. Motivated by the fact that offline preference dataset provides informative states (i.e., data that is preferred by the labelers), our new algorithm, Dataset Reset Policy Optimization (DR-PO), integrates the existing offline preference dataset into the online policy training procedure via dataset reset: it directly resets the policy optimizer to the states in the offline dataset, instead of always starting from the initial state distribution. In theory, we show that DR-PO learns to perform at least as good as any policy that is covered by the offline dataset under general function approximation with finite sample complexity. In experiments, we demonstrate that on both the TL;DR summarization and the Anthropic Helpful Harmful (HH) dataset, the generation from DR-PO is better than that from Proximal Policy Optimization (PPO) and Direction Preference Optimization (DPO), under the metric of GPT4 win-rate. Code for this work can be found at https://github.com/Cornell-RL/drpo.

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Abstract:A recent line of works showed regret bounds in reinforcement learning (RL) can be (nearly) independent of planning horizon, a.k.a.~the horizon-free bounds. However, these regret bounds only apply to settings where a polynomial dependency on the size of transition model is allowed, such as tabular Markov Decision Process (MDP) and linear mixture MDP. We give the first horizon-free bound for the popular linear MDP setting where the size of the transition model can be exponentially large or even uncountable. In contrast to prior works which explicitly estimate the transition model and compute the inhomogeneous value functions at different time steps, we directly estimate the value functions and confidence sets. We obtain the horizon-free bound by: (1) maintaining multiple weighted least square estimators for the value functions; and (2) a structural lemma which shows the maximal total variation of the inhomogeneous value functions is bounded by a polynomial factor of the feature dimension.

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Abstract:Single-Index Models are high-dimensional regression problems with planted structure, whereby labels depend on an unknown one-dimensional projection of the input via a generic, non-linear, and potentially non-deterministic transformation. As such, they encompass a broad class of statistical inference tasks, and provide a rich template to study statistical and computational trade-offs in the high-dimensional regime. While the information-theoretic sample complexity to recover the hidden direction is linear in the dimension $d$, we show that computationally efficient algorithms, both within the Statistical Query (SQ) and the Low-Degree Polynomial (LDP) framework, necessarily require $\Omega(d^{k^\star/2})$ samples, where $k^\star$ is a "generative" exponent associated with the model that we explicitly characterize. Moreover, we show that this sample complexity is also sufficient, by establishing matching upper bounds using a partial-trace algorithm. Therefore, our results provide evidence of a sharp computational-to-statistical gap (under both the SQ and LDP class) whenever $k^\star>2$. To complete the study, we provide examples of smooth and Lipschitz deterministic target functions with arbitrarily large generative exponents $k^\star$.

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Abstract:Transformer-based models have demonstrated remarkable in-context learning capabilities, prompting extensive research into its underlying mechanisms. Recent studies have suggested that Transformers can implement first-order optimization algorithms for in-context learning and even second order ones for the case of linear regression. In this work, we study whether Transformers can perform higher order optimization methods, beyond the case of linear regression. We establish that linear attention Transformers with ReLU layers can approximate second order optimization algorithms for the task of logistic regression and achieve $\epsilon$ error with only a logarithmic to the error more layers. As a by-product we demonstrate the ability of even linear attention-only Transformers in implementing a single step of Newton's iteration for matrix inversion with merely two layers. These results suggest the ability of the Transformer architecture to implement complex algorithms, beyond gradient descent.

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Abstract:Large Language Models (LLMs) are typically trained in two phases: pre-training on large internet-scale datasets, and fine-tuning for downstream tasks. Given the higher computational demand of pre-training, it's intuitive to assume that fine-tuning adds less new information to the model, and is thus more compressible. We explore this assumption by decomposing the weights of fine-tuned models into their pre-trained components and an additional delta. We introduce a simple method, BitDelta, which successfully quantizes this delta down to 1 bit without compromising performance. This interesting finding not only highlights the potential redundancy of information added during fine-tuning, but also has significant implications for the multi-tenant serving and multi-tenant storage of fine-tuned models. By enabling the use of a single high-precision base model accompanied by multiple 1-bit deltas, BitDelta dramatically reduces GPU memory requirements by more than 10x, which can also be translated to enhanced generation latency in multi-tenant settings. We validate BitDelta through experiments across Llama-2 and Mistral model families, and on models up to 70B parameters, showcasing minimal performance degradation over all tested settings.

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