Efficiently escaping saddle points on manifolds

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 32 (NeurIPS 2019)

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Christopher Criscitiello, Nicolas Boumal


Smooth, non-convex optimization problems on Riemannian manifolds occur in machine learning as a result of orthonormality, rank or positivity constraints. First- and second-order necessary optimality conditions state that the Riemannian gradient must be zero, and the Riemannian Hessian must be positive semidefinite. Generalizing Jin et al.'s recent work on perturbed gradient descent (PGD) for optimization on linear spaces [How to Escape Saddle Points Efficiently (2017), Stochastic Gradient Descent Escapes Saddle Points Efficiently (2019)], we study a version of perturbed Riemannian gradient descent (PRGD) to show that necessary optimality conditions can be met approximately with high probability, without evaluating the Hessian. Specifically, for an arbitrary Riemannian manifold $\mathcal{M}$ of dimension $d$, a sufficiently smooth (possibly non-convex) objective function $f$, and under weak conditions on the retraction chosen to move on the manifold, with high probability, our version of PRGD produces a point with gradient smaller than $\epsilon$ and Hessian within $\sqrt{\epsilon}$ of being positive semidefinite in $O((\log{d})^4 / \epsilon^{2})$ gradient queries. This matches the complexity of PGD in the Euclidean case. Crucially, the dependence on dimension is low, which matters for large-scale applications including PCA and low-rank matrix completion, which both admit natural formulations on manifolds. The key technical idea is to generalize PRGD with a distinction between two types of gradient steps: ``steps on the manifold'' and ``perturbed steps in a tangent space of the manifold.'' Ultimately, this distinction makes it possible to extend Jin et al.'s analysis seamlessly.