Multi-stage Convex Relaxation for Learning with Sparse Regularization

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 21 (NIPS 2008)

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Tong Zhang


We study learning formulations with non-convex regularizaton that are natural for sparse linear models. There are two approaches to this problem: (1) Heuristic methods such as gradient descent that only find a local minimum. A drawback of this approach is the lack of theoretical guarantee showing that the local minimum gives a good solution. (2) Convex relaxation such as $L_1$-regularization that solves the problem under some conditions. However it often leads to sub-optimal sparsity in reality. This paper tries to remedy the above gap between theory and practice. In particular, we investigate a multi-stage convex relaxation scheme for solving problems with non-convex regularization. Theoretically, we analyze the behavior of a resulting two-stage relaxation scheme for the capped-$L_1$ regularization. Our performance bound shows that the procedure is superior to the standard $L_1$ convex relaxation for learning sparse targets. Experiments confirm the effectiveness of this method on some simulation and real data.