Taming Gradient Variance in Federated Learning with Networked Control Variates

Federated learning, a decentralized approach to machine learning, faces significant challenges such as extensive communication overheads, slow convergence, and unstable improvements. These challenges primarily stem from the gradient variance due to heterogeneous client data distributions. To address this, we introduce a novel Networked Control Variates (FedNCV) framework for Federated Learning. We adopt the REINFORCE Leave-One-Out (RLOO) as a fundamental control variate unit in the FedNCV framework, implemented at both client and server levels. At the client level, the RLOO control variate is employed to optimize local gradient updates, mitigating the variance introduced by data samples. Once relayed to the server, the RLOO-based estimator further provides an unbiased and low-variance aggregated gradient, leading to robust global updates. This dual-side application is formalized as a linear combination of composite control variates. We provide a mathematical expression capturing this integration of double control variates within FedNCV and present three theoretical results with corresponding proofs. This unique dual structure equips FedNCV to address data heterogeneity and scalability issues, thus potentially paving the way for large-scale applications. Moreover, we tested FedNCV on six diverse datasets under a Dirichlet distribution with {\alpha} = 0.1, and benchmarked its performance against six SOTA methods, demonstrating its superiority.

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