Proxy Convexity: A Unified Framework for the Analysis of Neural Networks Trained by Gradient Descent

NeurIPS 2021  ·  Spencer Frei, Quanquan Gu ·

Although the optimization objectives for learning neural networks are highly non-convex, gradient-based methods have been wildly successful at learning neural networks in practice. This juxtaposition has led to a number of recent studies on provable guarantees for neural networks trained by gradient descent. Unfortunately, the techniques in these works are often highly specific to the problem studied in each setting, relying on different assumptions on the distribution, optimization parameters, and network architectures, making it difficult to generalize across different settings. In this work, we propose a unified non-convex optimization framework for the analysis of neural network training. We introduce the notions of proxy convexity and proxy Polyak-Lojasiewicz (PL) inequalities, which are satisfied if the original objective function induces a proxy objective function that is implicitly minimized when using gradient methods. We show that stochastic gradient descent (SGD) on objectives satisfying proxy convexity or the proxy PL inequality leads to efficient guarantees for proxy objective functions. We further show that many existing guarantees for neural networks trained by gradient descent can be unified through proxy convexity and proxy PL inequalities.

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