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Abstract:Given a sequence of functions $f_1,\ldots,f_n$ with $f_i:\mathcal{D}\mapsto \mathbb{R}$, finite-sum minimization seeks a point ${x}^\star \in \mathcal{D}$ minimizing $\sum_{j=1}^n f_j(x)/n$. In this work, we propose a key twist into the finite-sum minimization, dubbed as continual finite-sum minimization, that asks for a sequence of points ${x}_1^\star,\ldots,{x}_n^\star \in \mathcal{D}$ such that each ${x}^\star_i \in \mathcal{D}$ minimizes the prefix-sum $\sum_{j=1}^if_j(x)/i$. Assuming that each prefix-sum is strongly convex, we develop a first-order continual stochastic variance reduction gradient method ($\mathrm{CSVRG}$) producing an $\epsilon$-optimal sequence with $\mathcal{\tilde{O}}(n/\epsilon^{1/3} + 1/\sqrt{\epsilon})$ overall first-order oracles (FO). An FO corresponds to the computation of a single gradient $\nabla f_j(x)$ at a given $x \in \mathcal{D}$ for some $j \in [n]$. Our approach significantly improves upon the $\mathcal{O}(n/\epsilon)$ FOs that $\mathrm{StochasticGradientDescent}$ requires and the $\mathcal{O}(n^2 \log (1/\epsilon))$ FOs that state-of-the-art variance reduction methods such as $\mathrm{Katyusha}$ require. We also prove that there is no natural first-order method with $\mathcal{O}\left(n/\epsilon^\alpha\right)$ gradient complexity for $\alpha < 1/4$, establishing that the first-order complexity of our method is nearly tight.