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Abstract:This paper investigates a class of stochastic bilevel optimization problems where the upper-level function is nonconvex with potentially unbounded smoothness and the lower-level problem is strongly convex. These problems have significant applications in sequential data learning, such as text classification using recurrent neural networks. The unbounded smoothness is characterized by the smoothness constant of the upper-level function scaling linearly with the gradient norm, lacking a uniform upper bound. Existing state-of-the-art algorithms require $\widetilde{O}(1/\epsilon^4)$ oracle calls of stochastic gradient or Hessian/Jacobian-vector product to find an $\epsilon$-stationary point. However, it remains unclear if we can further improve the convergence rate when the assumptions for the function in the population level also hold for each random realization almost surely (e.g., Lipschitzness of each realization of the stochastic gradient). To address this issue, we propose a new Accelerated Bilevel Optimization algorithm named AccBO. The algorithm updates the upper-level variable by normalized stochastic gradient descent with recursive momentum and the lower-level variable by the stochastic Nesterov accelerated gradient descent algorithm with averaging. We prove that our algorithm achieves an oracle complexity of $\widetilde{O}(1/\epsilon^3)$ to find an $\epsilon$-stationary point. Our proof relies on a novel lemma characterizing the dynamics of stochastic Nesterov accelerated gradient descent algorithm under distribution drift with high probability for the lower-level variable, which is of independent interest and also plays a crucial role in analyzing the hypergradient estimation error over time. Experimental results on various tasks confirm that our proposed algorithm achieves the predicted theoretical acceleration and significantly outperforms baselines in bilevel optimization.

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Abstract:Bilevel optimization is an important formulation for many machine learning problems. Current bilevel optimization algorithms assume that the gradient of the upper-level function is Lipschitz. However, recent studies reveal that certain neural networks such as recurrent neural networks (RNNs) and long-short-term memory networks (LSTMs) exhibit potential unbounded smoothness, rendering conventional bilevel optimization algorithms unsuitable. In this paper, we design a new bilevel optimization algorithm, namely BO-REP, to address this challenge. This algorithm updates the upper-level variable using normalized momentum and incorporates two novel techniques for updating the lower-level variable: \textit{initialization refinement} and \textit{periodic updates}. Specifically, once the upper-level variable is initialized, a subroutine is invoked to obtain a refined estimate of the corresponding optimal lower-level variable, and the lower-level variable is updated only after every specific period instead of each iteration. When the upper-level problem is nonconvex and unbounded smooth, and the lower-level problem is strongly convex, we prove that our algorithm requires $\widetilde{\mathcal{O}}(1/\epsilon^4)$ iterations to find an $\epsilon$-stationary point in the stochastic setting, where each iteration involves calling a stochastic gradient or Hessian-vector product oracle. Notably, this result matches the state-of-the-art complexity results under the bounded smoothness setting and without mean-squared smoothness of the stochastic gradient, up to logarithmic factors. Our proof relies on novel technical lemmas for the periodically updated lower-level variable, which are of independent interest. Our experiments on hyper-representation learning, hyperparameter optimization, and data hyper-cleaning for text classification tasks demonstrate the effectiveness of our proposed algorithm.

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