Stochastic Approximation Approaches to Group Distributionally Robust Optimization

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 36 (NeurIPS 2023) Main Conference Track

Bibtex Paper


Lijun Zhang, Peng Zhao, Zhen-Hua Zhuang, Tianbao Yang, Zhi-Hua Zhou


This paper investigates group distributionally robust optimization (GDRO), with the purpose to learn a model that performs well over $m$ different distributions. First, we formulate GDRO as a stochastic convex-concave saddle-point problem, and demonstrate that stochastic mirror descent (SMD), using $m$ samples in each iteration, achieves an $O(m (\log m)/\epsilon^2)$ sample complexity for finding an $\epsilon$-optimal solution, which matches the $\Omega(m/\epsilon^2)$ lower bound up to a logarithmic factor. Then, we make use of techniques from online learning to reduce the number of samples required in each round from $m$ to $1$, keeping the same sample complexity. Specifically, we cast GDRO as a two-players game where one player simply performs SMD and the other executes an online algorithm for non-oblivious multi-armed bandits. Next, we consider a more practical scenario where the number of samples that can be drawn from each distribution is different, and propose a novel formulation of weighted GDRO, which allows us to derive distribution-dependent convergence rates. Denote by $n_i$ the sample budget for the $i$-th distribution, and assume $n_1 \geq n_2 \geq \cdots \geq n_m$. In the first approach, we incorporate non-uniform sampling into SMD such that the sample budget is satisfied in expectation, and prove that the excess risk of the $i$-th distribution decreases at an $O(\sqrt{n_1 \log m}/n_i)$ rate. In the second approach, we use mini-batches to meet the budget exactly and also reduce the variance in stochastic gradients, and then leverage stochastic mirror-prox algorithm, which can exploit small variances, to optimize a carefully designed weighted GDRO problem. Under appropriate conditions, it attains an $O((\log m)/\sqrt{n_i})$ convergence rate, which almost matches the optimal $O(\sqrt{1/n_i})$ rate of only learning from the $i$-th distribution with $n_i$ samples.