Multiplicative Noise and Heavy Tails in Stochastic Optimization

TitleMultiplicative Noise and Heavy Tails in Stochastic Optimization
Publication TypeConference Paper
Year of Publication2020
AuthorsHodgkinson, L., & Mahoney M. W.

Although stochastic optimization is central to modern machine learning, the precise mechanisms underlying its success, and in particular, the precise role of the stochasticity, still remain unclear. Modelling stochastic optimization algorithms as discrete random recurrence relations, we show that multiplicative noise, as it commonly arises due to variance in local rates of convergence, results in heavy-tailed stationary behaviour in the parameters. A detailed analysis is conducted for SGD applied to a simple linear regression problem, followed by theoretical results for a much larger class of models (including non-linear and non-convex) and optimizers (including momentum, Adam, and stochastic Newton), demonstrating that our qualitative results hold much more generally. In each case, we describe dependence on key factors, including step size, batch size, and data variability, all of which exhibit similar qualitative behavior to recent empirical results on state-of-the-art neural network models from computer vision and natural language processing. Furthermore, we empirically demonstrate how multiplicative noise and heavy-tailed structure improve capacity for basin hopping and exploration of non-convex loss surfaces, over commonly-considered stochastic dynamics with only additive noise and light-tailed structure.