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Xiang Cheng, Jingzhao Zhang, Suvrit Sra

We study the task of efficiently sampling from a Gibbs distribution $d \pi^* = e^{-h} d {vol}_g$ over a Riemannian manifold $M$ via (geometric) Langevin MCMC; this algorithm involves computing exponential maps in random Gaussian directions and is efficiently implementable in practice. The key to our analysis of Langevin MCMC is a bound on the discretization error of the geometric Euler-Murayama scheme, assuming $\nabla h$ is Lipschitz and $M$ has bounded sectional curvature. Our error bound matches the error of Euclidean Euler-Murayama in terms of its stepsize dependence. Combined with a contraction guarantee for the geometric Langevin Diffusion under Kendall-Cranston coupling, we prove that the Langevin MCMC iterates lie within $\epsilon$-Wasserstein distance of $\pi^*$ after $\tilde{O}(\epsilon^{-2})$ steps, which matches the iteration complexity for Euclidean Langevin MCMC. Our results apply in general settings where $h$ can be nonconvex and $M$ can have negative Ricci curvature. Under additional assumptions that the Riemannian curvature tensor has bounded derivatives, and that $\pi^*$ satisfies a $CD(\cdot,\infty)$ condition, we analyze the stochastic gradient version of Langevin MCMC, and bound its iteration complexity by $\tilde{O}(\epsilon^{-2})$ as well.

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Xiang Cheng, Yuxin Chen, Suvrit Sra

Many neural network architectures have been shown to be Turing Complete, and can thus implement arbitrary algorithms. However, Transformers are unique in that they can implement gradient-based learning algorithms \emph{under simple parameter configurations}. A line of recent work shows that linear Transformers naturally learn to implement gradient descent (GD) when trained on a linear regression in-context learning task. But the linearity assumption (either in the Transformer architecture or in the learning task) is far from realistic settings where non-linear activations crucially enable Transformers to learn complicated non-linear functions. In this paper, we provide theoretical and empirical evidence that non-linear Transformers can, and \emph{in fact do}, learn to implement learning algorithms to learn non-linear functions in context. Our results apply to a broad class of combinations of non-linear architectures, and non-linear in-context learning tasks. Interestingly, we show that the optimal choice of non-linear activation depends in a natural way on the non-linearity of the learning task.

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Kwangjun Ahn, Xiang Cheng, Minhak Song, Chulhee Yun, Ali Jadbabaie, Suvrit Sra

Transformer training is notoriously difficult, requiring a careful design of optimizers and use of various heuristics. We make progress towards understanding the subtleties of training transformers by carefully studying a simple yet canonical linearized shallow transformer model. Specifically, we train linear transformers to solve regression tasks, inspired by J. von Oswald et al. (ICML 2023), and K. Ahn et al. (NeurIPS 2023). Most importantly, we observe that our proposed linearized models can reproduce several prominent aspects of transformer training dynamics. Consequently, the results obtained in this paper suggest that a simple linearized transformer model could actually be a valuable, realistic abstraction for understanding transformer optimization.

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Adarsh Barik, Suvrit Sra, Jean Honorio

Invex programs are a special kind of non-convex problems which attain global minima at every stationary point. While classical first-order gradient descent methods can solve them, they converge very slowly. In this paper, we propose new first-order algorithms to solve the general class of invex problems. We identify sufficient conditions for convergence of our algorithms and provide rates of convergence. Furthermore, we go beyond unconstrained problems and provide a novel projected gradient method for constrained invex programs with convergence rate guarantees. We compare and contrast our results with existing first-order algorithms for a variety of unconstrained and constrained invex problems. To the best of our knowledge, our proposed algorithm is the first algorithm to solve constrained invex programs.

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Kwangjun Ahn, Xiang Cheng, Hadi Daneshmand, Suvrit Sra

Motivated by the striking ability of transformers for in-context learning, several works demonstrate that transformers can implement algorithms like gradient descent. By a careful construction of weights, these works show that multiple layers of transformers are expressive enough to simulate gradient descent iterations. Going beyond the question of expressivity, we ask: Can transformers learn to implement such algorithms by training over random problem instances? To our knowledge, we make the first theoretical progress toward this question via analysis of the loss landscape for linear transformers trained over random instances of linear regression. For a single attention layer, we prove the global minimum of the training objective implements a single iteration of preconditioned gradient descent. Notably, the preconditioning matrix not only adapts to the input distribution but also to the variance induced by data inadequacy. For a transformer with $k$ attention layers, we prove certain critical points of the training objective implement $k$ iterations of preconditioned gradient descent. Our results call for future theoretical studies on learning algorithms by training transformers.

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Kwangjun Ahn, Ali Jadbabaie, Suvrit Sra

Modern machine learning applications have seen a remarkable success of optimization algorithms that are designed to find flat minima. Motivated by this paradigm, this work formulates and studies the algorithmic question of how to find flat minima. As an initial effort, this work adopts the trace of hessian of the cost function as the measure of flatness, and formally defines the notion of approximate flat minima. Under this notion, we then design algorithms that find approximate flat minima efficiently. For general cost functions, we present a gradient-based algorithm that finds an approximate flat local minimum efficiently. The main component of the algorithm is to use gradients computed from randomly perturbed iterates to estimate a direction that leads to flatter minima. For the setting where the cost function is an empirical risk over training data, we present a faster algorithm that is inspired by a recently proposed practical algorithm called sharpness-aware minimization, supporting its success in practice.

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Yan Dai, Kwangjun Ahn, Suvrit Sra

Sharpness-Aware Minimization (SAM) is a recently proposed gradient-based optimizer (Foret et al., ICLR 2021) that greatly improves the prediction performance of deep neural networks. Consequently, there has been a surge of interest in explaining its empirical success. We focus, in particular, on understanding the role played by normalization, a key component of the SAM updates. We theoretically and empirically study the effect of normalization in SAM for both convex and non-convex functions, revealing two key roles played by normalization: i) it helps in stabilizing the algorithm; and ii) it enables the algorithm to drift along a continuum (manifold) of minima -- a property identified by recent theoretical works that is the key to better performance. We further argue that these two properties of normalization make SAM robust against the choice of hyper-parameters, supporting the practicality of SAM. Our conclusions are backed by various experiments.

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David X. Wu, Chulhee Yun, Suvrit Sra

We uncover how SGD interacts with batch normalization and can exhibit undesirable training dynamics such as divergence. More precisely, we study how Single Shuffle (SS) and Random Reshuffle (RR) -- two widely used variants of SGD -- interact surprisingly differently in the presence of batch normalization: RR leads to much more stable evolution of training loss than SS. As a concrete example, for regression using a linear network with batch normalization, we prove that SS and RR converge to distinct global optima that are "distorted" away from gradient descent. Thereafter, for classification we characterize conditions under which training divergence for SS and RR can, and cannot occur. We present explicit constructions to show how SS leads to distorted optima in regression and divergence for classification, whereas RR avoids both distortion and divergence. We validate our results by confirming them empirically in realistic settings, and conclude that the separation between SS and RR used with batch normalization is relevant in practice.

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Yi Tian, Kaiqing Zhang, Russ Tedrake, Suvrit Sra

We study the task of learning state representations from potentially high-dimensional observations, with the goal of controlling an unknown partially observable system. We pursue a direct latent model learning approach, where a dynamic model in some latent state space is learned by predicting quantities directly related to planning (e.g., costs) without reconstructing the observations. In particular, we focus on an intuitive cost-driven state representation learning method for solving Linear Quadratic Gaussian (LQG) control, one of the most fundamental partially observable control problems. As our main results, we establish finite-sample guarantees of finding a near-optimal state representation function and a near-optimal controller using the directly learned latent model. To the best of our knowledge, despite various empirical successes, prior to this work it was unclear if such a cost-driven latent model learner enjoys finite-sample guarantees. Our work underscores the value of predicting multi-step costs, an idea that is key to our theory, and notably also an idea that is known to be empirically valuable for learning state representations.

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