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In this paper, we study differentially private (DP) algorithms for computing the geometric median (GM) of a dataset: Given $n$ points, $x_1,\dots,x_n$ in $\mathbb{R}^d$, the goal is to find a point $\theta$ that minimizes the sum of the Euclidean distances to these points, i.e., $\sum_{i=1}^{n} \|\theta - x_i\|_2$. Off-the-shelf methods, such as DP-GD, require strong a priori knowledge locating the data within a ball of radius $R$, and the excess risk of the algorithm depends linearly on $R$. In this paper, we ask: can we design an efficient and private algorithm with an excess error guarantee that scales with the (unknown) radius containing the majority of the datapoints? Our main contribution is a pair of polynomial-time DP algorithms for the task of private GM with an excess error guarantee that scales with the effective diameter of the datapoints. Additionally, we propose an inefficient algorithm based on the inverse smooth sensitivity mechanism, which satisfies the more restrictive notion of pure DP. We complement our results with a lower bound and demonstrate the optimality of our polynomial-time algorithms in terms of sample complexity.

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In this work, we investigate the interplay between memorization and learning in the context of \emph{stochastic convex optimization} (SCO). We define memorization via the information a learning algorithm reveals about its training data points. We then quantify this information using the framework of conditional mutual information (CMI) proposed by Steinke and Zakynthinou (2020). Our main result is a precise characterization of the tradeoff between the accuracy of a learning algorithm and its CMI, answering an open question posed by Livni (2023). We show that, in the $L^2$ Lipschitz--bounded setting and under strong convexity, every learner with an excess error $\varepsilon$ has CMI bounded below by $\Omega(1/\varepsilon^2)$ and $\Omega(1/\varepsilon)$, respectively. We further demonstrate the essential role of memorization in learning problems in SCO by designing an adversary capable of accurately identifying a significant fraction of the training samples in specific SCO problems. Finally, we enumerate several implications of our results, such as a limitation of generalization bounds based on CMI and the incompressibility of samples in SCO problems.

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Differentially private (stochastic) gradient descent is the workhorse of DP private machine learning in both the convex and non-convex settings. Without privacy constraints, second-order methods, like Newton's method, converge faster than first-order methods like gradient descent. In this work, we investigate the prospect of using the second-order information from the loss function to accelerate DP convex optimization. We first develop a private variant of the regularized cubic Newton method of Nesterov and Polyak, and show that for the class of strongly convex loss functions, our algorithm has quadratic convergence and achieves the optimal excess loss. We then design a practical second-order DP algorithm for the unconstrained logistic regression problem. We theoretically and empirically study the performance of our algorithm. Empirical results show our algorithm consistently achieves the best excess loss compared to other baselines and is 10-40x faster than DP-GD/DP-SGD.

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Arun Ganesh, Mahdi Haghifam, Milad Nasr, Sewoong Oh, Thomas Steinke, Om Thakkar, Abhradeep Thakurta, Lun Wang

In the privacy-utility tradeoff of a model trained on benchmark language and vision tasks, remarkable improvements have been widely reported with the use of pretraining on publicly available data. This is in part due to the benefits of transfer learning, which is the standard motivation for pretraining in non-private settings. However, the stark contrast in the improvement achieved through pretraining under privacy compared to non-private settings suggests that there may be a deeper, distinct cause driving these gains. To explain this phenomenon, we hypothesize that the non-convex loss landscape of a model training necessitates an optimization algorithm to go through two phases. In the first, the algorithm needs to select a good "basin" in the loss landscape. In the second, the algorithm solves an easy optimization within that basin. The former is a harder problem to solve with private data, while the latter is harder to solve with public data due to a distribution shift or data scarcity. Guided by this intuition, we provide theoretical constructions that provably demonstrate the separation between private training with and without public pretraining. Further, systematic experiments on CIFAR10 and LibriSpeech provide supporting evidence for our hypothesis.

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Mahdi Haghifam, Borja Rodríguez-Gálvez, Ragnar Thobaben, Mikael Skoglund, Daniel M. Roy, Gintare Karolina Dziugaite

To date, no "information-theoretic" frameworks for reasoning about generalization error have been shown to establish minimax rates for gradient descent in the setting of stochastic convex optimization. In this work, we consider the prospect of establishing such rates via several existing information-theoretic frameworks: input-output mutual information bounds, conditional mutual information bounds and variants, PAC-Bayes bounds, and recent conditional variants thereof. We prove that none of these bounds are able to establish minimax rates. We then consider a common tactic employed in studying gradient methods, whereby the final iterate is corrupted by Gaussian noise, producing a noisy "surrogate" algorithm. We prove that minimax rates cannot be established via the analysis of such surrogates. Our results suggest that new ideas are required to analyze gradient descent using information-theoretic techniques.

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We study the mutual information between (certain summaries of) the output of a learning algorithm and its $n$ training data, conditional on a supersample of $n+1$ i.i.d. data from which the training data is chosen at random without replacement. These leave-one-out variants of the conditional mutual information (CMI) of an algorithm (Steinke and Zakynthinou, 2020) are also seen to control the mean generalization error of learning algorithms with bounded loss functions. For learning algorithms achieving zero empirical risk under 0-1 loss (i.e., interpolating algorithms), we provide an explicit connection between leave-one-out CMI and the classical leave-one-out error estimate of the risk. Using this connection, we obtain upper and lower bounds on risk in terms of the (evaluated) leave-one-out CMI. When the limiting risk is constant or decays polynomially, the bounds converge to within a constant factor of two. As an application, we analyze the population risk of the one-inclusion graph algorithm, a general-purpose transductive learning algorithm for VC classes in the realizable setting. Using leave-one-out CMI, we match the optimal bound for learning VC classes in the realizable setting, answering an open challenge raised by Steinke and Zakynthinou (2020). Finally, in order to understand the role of leave-one-out CMI in studying generalization, we place leave-one-out CMI in a hierarchy of measures, with a novel unconditional mutual information at the root. For 0-1 loss and interpolating learning algorithms, this mutual information is observed to be precisely the risk.

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In this work, we investigate the expressiveness of the "conditional mutual information" (CMI) framework of Steinke and Zakynthinou (2020) and the prospect of using it to provide a unified framework for proving generalization bounds in the realizable setting. We first demonstrate that one can use this framework to express non-trivial (but sub-optimal) bounds for any learning algorithm that outputs hypotheses from a class of bounded VC dimension. We prove that the CMI framework yields the optimal bound on the expected risk of Support Vector Machines (SVMs) for learning halfspaces. This result is an application of our general result showing that stable compression schemes Bousquet al. (2020) of size $k$ have uniformly bounded CMI of order $O(k)$. We further show that an inherent limitation of proper learning of VC classes contradicts the existence of a proper learner with constant CMI, and it implies a negative resolution to an open problem of Steinke and Zakynthinou (2020). We further study the CMI of empirical risk minimizers (ERMs) of class $H$ and show that it is possible to output all consistent classifiers (version space) with bounded CMI if and only if $H$ has a bounded star number (Hanneke and Yang (2015)). Moreover, we prove a general reduction showing that "leave-one-out" analysis is expressible via the CMI framework. As a corollary we investigate the CMI of the one-inclusion-graph algorithm proposed by Haussler et al. (1994). More generally, we show that the CMI framework is universal in the sense that for every consistent algorithm and data distribution, the expected risk vanishes as the number of samples diverges if and only if its evaluated CMI has sublinear growth with the number of samples.

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We provide a negative resolution to a conjecture of Steinke and Zakynthinou (2020a), by showing that their bound on the conditional mutual information (CMI) of proper learners of Vapnik--Chervonenkis (VC) classes cannot be improved from $d \log n +2$ to $O(d)$, where $n$ is the number of i.i.d. training examples. In fact, we exhibit VC classes for which the CMI of any proper learner cannot be bounded by any real-valued function of the VC dimension only.

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The information-theoretic framework of Russo and J. Zou (2016) and Xu and Raginsky (2017) provides bounds on the generalization error of a learning algorithm in terms of the mutual information between the algorithm's output and the training sample. In this work, we study the proposal, by Steinke and Zakynthinou (2020), to reason about the generalization error of a learning algorithm by introducing a super sample that contains the training sample as a random subset and computing mutual information conditional on the super sample. We first show that these new bounds based on the conditional mutual information are tighter than those based on the unconditional mutual information. We then introduce yet tighter bounds, building on the "individual sample" idea of Bu, S. Zou, and Veeravalli (2019) and the "data dependent" ideas of Negrea et al. (2019), using disintegrated mutual information. Finally, we apply these bounds to the study of Langevin dynamics algorithm, showing that conditioning on the super sample allows us to exploit information in the optimization trajectory to obtain tighter bounds based on hypothesis tests.

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Motivated by real-world machine learning applications, we consider a statistical classification task in a sequential setting where test samples arrive sequentially. In addition, the generating distributions are unknown and only a set of empirically sampled sequences are available to a decision maker. The decision maker is tasked to classify a test sequence which is known to be generated according to either one of the distributions. In particular, for the binary case, the decision maker wishes to perform the classification task with minimum number of the test samples, so, at each step, she declares that either hypothesis 1 is true, hypothesis 2 is true, or she requests for an additional test sample. We propose a classifier and analyze the type-I and type-II error probabilities. We demonstrate the significant advantage of our sequential scheme compared to an existing non-sequential classifier proposed by Gutman. Finally, we extend our setup and results to the multi-class classification scenario and again demonstrate that the variable-length nature of the problem affords significant advantages as one can achieve the same set of exponents as Gutman's fixed-length setting but without having the rejection option.

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