Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 34 (NeurIPS 2021)
Rémi Bardenet, Subhroshekhar Ghosh, Meixia LIN
Stochastic gradient descent (SGD) is a cornerstone of machine learning. When the number $N$ of data items is large, SGD relies on constructing an unbiased estimator of the gradient of the empirical risk using a small subset of the original dataset, called a minibatch. Default minibatch construction involves uniformly sampling a subset of the desired size, but alternatives have been explored for variance reduction. In particular, experimental evidence suggests drawing minibatches from determinantal point processes (DPPs), tractable distributions over minibatches that favour diversity among selected items. However, like in recent work on DPPs for coresets, providing a systematic and principled understanding of how and why DPPs help has been difficult. In this work, we contribute an orthogonal polynomial-based determinantal point process paradigm for performing minibatch sampling in SGD. Our approach leverages the specific data distribution at hand, which endows it with greater sensitivity and power over existing data-agnostic methods. We substantiate our method via a detailed theoretical analysis of its convergence properties, interweaving between the discrete data set and the underlying continuous domain. In particular, we show how specific DPPs and a string of controlled approximations can lead to gradient estimators with a variance that decays faster with the batchsize than under uniform sampling. Coupled with existing finite-time guarantees for SGD on convex objectives, this entails that, for a large enough batchsize and a fixed budget of item-level gradients to evaluate, DPP minibatches lead to a smaller bound on the mean square approximation error than uniform minibatches. Moreover, our estimators are amenable to a recent algorithm that directly samples linear statistics of DPPs (i.e., the gradient estimator) without sampling the underlying DPP (i.e., the minibatch), thereby reducing computational overhead. We provide detailed synthetic as well as real data experiments to substantiate our theoretical claims.