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Jikai Jin, Vasilis Syrgkanis

Average treatment effect estimation is the most central problem in causal inference with application to numerous disciplines. While many estimation strategies have been proposed in the literature, recently also incorporating generic machine learning estimators, the statistical optimality of these methods has still remained an open area of investigation. In this paper, we adopt the recently introduced structure-agnostic framework of statistical lower bounds, which poses no structural properties on the nuisance functions other than access to black-box estimators that attain small errors; which is particularly appealing when one is only willing to consider estimation strategies that use non-parametric regression and classification oracles as a black-box sub-process. Within this framework, we prove the statistical optimality of the celebrated and widely used doubly robust estimators for both the Average Treatment Effect (ATE) and the Average Treatment Effect on the Treated (ATTE), as well as weighted variants of the former, which arise in policy evaluation.

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Kaifeng Lyu, Jikai Jin, Zhiyuan Li, Simon S. Du, Jason D. Lee, Wei Hu

Recent work by Power et al. (2022) highlighted a surprising "grokking" phenomenon in learning arithmetic tasks: a neural net first "memorizes" the training set, resulting in perfect training accuracy but near-random test accuracy, and after training for sufficiently longer, it suddenly transitions to perfect test accuracy. This paper studies the grokking phenomenon in theoretical setups and shows that it can be induced by a dichotomy of early and late phase implicit biases. Specifically, when training homogeneous neural nets with large initialization and small weight decay on both classification and regression tasks, we prove that the training process gets trapped at a solution corresponding to a kernel predictor for a long time, and then a very sharp transition to min-norm/max-margin predictors occurs, leading to a dramatic change in test accuracy.

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Jikai Jin, Vasilis Syrgkanis

This paper studies causal representation learning, the task of recovering high-level latent variables and their causal relationships from low-level data that we observe, assuming access to observations generated from multiple environments. While existing works are able to prove full identifiability of the underlying data generating process, they typically assume access to single-node, hard interventions which is rather unrealistic in practice. The main contribution of this paper is characterize a notion of identifiability which is provably the best one can achieve when hard interventions are not available. First, for linear causal models, we provide identifiability guarantee for data observed from general environments without assuming any similarities between them. While the causal graph is shown to be fully recovered, the latent variables are only identified up to an effect-domination ambiguity (EDA). We then propose an algorithm, LiNGCReL which is guaranteed to recover the ground-truth model up to EDA, and we demonstrate its effectiveness via numerical experiments. Moving on to general non-parametric causal models, we prove the same idenfifiability guarantee assuming access to groups of soft interventions. Finally, we provide counterparts of our identifiability results, indicating that EDA is basically inevitable in our setting.

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Jikai Jin, Zhiyuan Li, Kaifeng Lyu, Simon S. Du, Jason D. Lee

It is believed that Gradient Descent (GD) induces an implicit bias towards good generalization in training machine learning models. This paper provides a fine-grained analysis of the dynamics of GD for the matrix sensing problem, whose goal is to recover a low-rank ground-truth matrix from near-isotropic linear measurements. It is shown that GD with small initialization behaves similarly to the greedy low-rank learning heuristics (Li et al., 2020) and follows an incremental learning procedure (Gissin et al., 2019): GD sequentially learns solutions with increasing ranks until it recovers the ground truth matrix. Compared to existing works which only analyze the first learning phase for rank-1 solutions, our result provides characterizations for the whole learning process. Moreover, besides the over-parameterized regime that many prior works focused on, our analysis of the incremental learning procedure also applies to the under-parameterized regime. Finally, we conduct numerical experiments to confirm our theoretical findings.

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Jikai Jin, Yiping Lu, Jose Blanchet, Lexing Ying

Learning mappings between infinite-dimensional function spaces has achieved empirical success in many disciplines of machine learning, including generative modeling, functional data analysis, causal inference, and multi-agent reinforcement learning. In this paper, we study the statistical limit of learning a Hilbert-Schmidt operator between two infinite-dimensional Sobolev reproducing kernel Hilbert spaces. We establish the information-theoretic lower bound in terms of the Sobolev Hilbert-Schmidt norm and show that a regularization that learns the spectral components below the bias contour and ignores the ones that are above the variance contour can achieve the optimal learning rate. At the same time, the spectral components between the bias and variance contours give us flexibility in designing computationally feasible machine learning algorithms. Based on this observation, we develop a multilevel kernel operator learning algorithm that is optimal when learning linear operators between infinite-dimensional function spaces.

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Binghui Li, Jikai Jin, Han Zhong, John E. Hopcroft, Liwei Wang

It is well-known that modern neural networks are vulnerable to adversarial examples. To mitigate this problem, a series of robust learning algorithms have been proposed. However, although the robust training error can be near zero via some methods, all existing algorithms lead to a high robust generalization error. In this paper, we provide a theoretical understanding of this puzzling phenomenon from the perspective of expressive power for deep neural networks. Specifically, for binary classification problems with well-separated data, we show that, for ReLU networks, while mild over-parameterization is sufficient for high robust training accuracy, there exists a constant robust generalization gap unless the size of the neural network is exponential in the data dimension $d$. Even if the data is linear separable, which means achieving low clean generalization error is easy, we can still prove an $\exp({\Omega}(d))$ lower bound for robust generalization. Moreover, we establish an improved upper bound of $\exp({\mathcal{O}}(k))$ for the network size to achieve low robust generalization error when the data lies on a manifold with intrinsic dimension $k$ ($k \ll d$). Nonetheless, we also have a lower bound that grows exponentially with respect to $k$ -- the curse of dimensionality is inevitable. By demonstrating an exponential separation between the network size for achieving low robust training and generalization error, our results reveal that the hardness of robust generalization may stem from the expressive power of practical models.

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Jikai Jin, Suvrit Sra

The study of accelerated gradient methods in Riemannian optimization has recently witnessed notable progress. However, in contrast with the Euclidean setting, a systematic understanding of acceleration is still lacking in the Riemannian setting. We revisit the \emph{Accelerated Hybrid Proximal Extragradient} (A-HPE) method of \citet{monteiro2013accelerated}, a powerful framework for obtaining accelerated Euclidean methods. Subsequently, we propose a Riemannian version of A-HPE. The basis of our analysis of Riemannian A-HPE is a set of insights into Euclidean A-HPE, which we combine with a careful control of distortion caused by Riemannian geometry. We describe a number of Riemannian accelerated gradient methods as concrete instances of our framework.

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Jikai Jin, Bohang Zhang, Haiyang Wang, Liwei Wang

Distributionally robust optimization (DRO) is a widely-used approach to learn models that are robust against distribution shift. Compared with the standard optimization setting, the objective function in DRO is more difficult to optimize, and most of the existing theoretical results make strong assumptions on the loss function. In this work we bridge the gap by studying DRO algorithms for general smooth non-convex losses. By carefully exploiting the specific form of the DRO objective, we are able to provide non-asymptotic convergence guarantees even though the objective function is possibly non-convex, non-smooth and has unbounded gradient noise. In particular, we prove that a special algorithm called the mini-batch normalized gradient descent with momentum, can find an $\epsilon$ first-order stationary point within $O( \epsilon^{-4} )$ gradient complexity. We also discuss the conditional value-at-risk (CVaR) setting, where we propose a penalized DRO objective based on a smoothed version of the CVaR that allows us to obtain a similar convergence guarantee. We finally verify our theoretical results in a number of tasks and find that the proposed algorithm can consistently achieve prominent acceleration.

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Bohang Zhang, Jikai Jin, Cong Fang, Liwei Wang

Gradient clipping is commonly used in training deep neural networks partly due to its practicability in relieving the exploding gradient problem. Recently, \citet{zhang2019gradient} show that clipped (stochastic) Gradient Descent (GD) converges faster than vanilla GD/SGD via introducing a new assumption called $(L_0, L_1)$-smoothness, which characterizes the violent fluctuation of gradients typically encountered in deep neural networks. However, their iteration complexities on the problem-dependent parameters are rather pessimistic, and theoretical justification of clipping combined with other crucial techniques, e.g. momentum acceleration, are still lacking. In this paper, we bridge the gap by presenting a general framework to study the clipping algorithms, which also takes momentum methods into consideration. We provide convergence analysis of the framework in both deterministic and stochastic setting, and demonstrate the tightness of our results by comparing them with existing lower bounds. Our results imply that the efficiency of clipping methods will not degenerate even in highly non-smooth regions of the landscape. Experiments confirm the superiority of clipping-based methods in deep learning tasks.

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Jikai Jin

In recent years, the success of deep learning has inspired many researchers to study the optimization of general smooth non-convex functions. However, recent works have established pessimistic worst-case complexities for this class functions, which is in stark contrast with their superior performance in real-world applications (e.g. training deep neural networks). On the other hand, it is found that many popular non-convex optimization problems enjoy certain structured properties which bear some similarities to convexity. In this paper, we study the class of \textit{quasar-convex functions} to close the gap between theory and practice. We study the convergence of first order methods in a variety of different settings and under different optimality criterions. We prove complexity upper bounds that are similar to standard results established for convex functions and much better that state-of-the-art convergence rates of non-convex functions. Overall, this paper suggests that \textit{quasar-convexity} allows efficient optimization procedures, and we are looking forward to seeing more problems that demonstrate similar properties in practice.

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