Subgradient Descent Learns Orthogonal Dictionaries

ICLR 2019  ·  Yu Bai, Qijia Jiang, Ju Sun ·

This paper concerns dictionary learning, i.e., sparse coding, a fundamental representation learning problem. We show that a subgradient descent algorithm, with random initialization, can provably recover orthogonal dictionaries on a natural nonsmooth, nonconvex $\ell_1$ minimization formulation of the problem, under mild statistical assumptions on the data. This is in contrast to previous provable methods that require either expensive computation or delicate initialization schemes. Our analysis develops several tools for characterizing landscapes of nonsmooth functions, which might be of independent interest for provable training of deep networks with nonsmooth activations (e.g., ReLU), among numerous other applications. Preliminary experiments corroborate our analysis and show that our algorithm works well empirically in recovering orthogonal dictionaries.

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