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Why is parameter averaging beneficial in SGD? An objective smoothing perspective

Atsushi Nitanda · Ryuhei Kikuchi · Shugo Maeda · Denny Wu

MR1 & MR2 - Number 126
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Sat 4 May 6 a.m. PDT — 8:30 a.m. PDT


It is often observed that stochastic gradient descent (SGD) and its variants implicitly select a solution with good generalization performance; such implicit bias is often characterized in terms of the sharpness of the minima. Kleinberg et al. (2018) connected this bias with the smoothing effect of SGD which eliminates sharp local minima by the convolution using the stochastic gradient noise. We follow this line of research and study the commonly-used averaged SGD algorithm, which has been empirically observed in Izmailov et al. (2018) to prefer a flat minimum and therefore achieves better generalization. We prove that in certain problem settings, averaged SGD can efficiently optimize the smoothed objective which avoids sharp local minima. In experiments, we verify our theory and show that parameter averaging with an appropriate step size indeed leads to significant improvement in the performance of SGD.

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