Benign Oscillation of Stochastic Gradient Descent with Large Learning Rates


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In this work, we theoretically investigate the generalization properties of neural networks (NN) trained by stochastic gradient descent (SGD) algorithm with large learning rates. Under such a training regime, our finding is that, the oscillation of the NN weights caused by the large learning rate SGD training turns out to be beneficial to the generalization of the NN, which potentially improves over the same NN trained by SGD with small learning rates that converges more smoothly. In view of this finding, we call such a phenomenon "benign oscillation". Our theory towards demystifying such a phenomenon builds upon the feature learning perspective of deep learning. Specifically, we consider a feature-noise data generation model that consists of (i) weak features which have a small $\ell_2$-norm and appear in each data point; (ii) strong features which have a larger $\ell_2$-norm but only appear in a certain fraction of all data points; and (iii) noise. We prove that NNs trained by oscillating SGD with a large learning rate can effectively learn the weak features in the presence of those strong features. In contrast, NNs trained by SGD with a small learning rate can only learn the strong features but makes little progress in learning the weak features. Consequently, when it comes to the new testing data which consist of only weak features, the NN trained by oscillating SGD with a large learning rate could still make correct predictions consistently, while the NN trained by small learning rate SGD fails. Our theory sheds light on how large learning rate training benefits the generalization of NNs. Experimental results demonstrate our finding on "benign oscillation".
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Key words
stochastic gradient descent,large learning,oscillation
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