Keywords: generalization, gradient descent, Neural tangent kernel, Adam, nonconvex optimization
Abstract: Adaptive gradient methods such as Adam have gained increasing popularity in deep learning optimization. However, it has been observed in many deep learning applications such as image classification, Adam can converge to a different solution with a worse test error compared to (stochastic) gradient descent, even with a fine-tuned regularization. In this paper, we provide a theoretical explanation for this phenomenon: we show that in the nonconvex setting of learning over-parameterized two-layer convolutional neural networks starting from the same random initialization, for a class of data distributions (inspired from image data), Adam and gradient descent (GD) can converge to different global solutions of the training objective with provably different generalization errors, even with weight decay regularization. In contrast, we show that if the training objective is convex, and the weight decay regularization is employed, any optimization algorithms including Adam and GD will converge to the same solution if the training is successful. This suggests that the generalization gap between Adam and SGD in the presence of weight decay regularization is closely tied to the nonconvex landscape of deep learning optimization, which cannot be covered by the recent neural tangent kernel (NTK) based analysis.
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