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Published July 22, 2019 | Submitted
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Analysis Of Momentum Methods


Gradient decent-based optimization methods underpin the parameter training which results in the impressive results now found when testing neural networks. Introducing stochasticity is key to their success in practical problems, and there is some understanding of the role of stochastic gradient decent in this context. Momentum modifications of gradient decent such as Polyak's Heavy Ball method (HB) and Nesterov's method of accelerated gradients (NAG), are widely adopted. In this work, our focus is on understanding the role of momentum in the training of neural networks, concentrating on the common situation in which the momentum contribution is fixed at each step of the algorithm; to expose the ideas simply we work in the deterministic setting. We show that, contrary to popular belief, standard implementations of fixed momentum methods do no more than act to rescale the learning rate. We achieve this by showing that the momentum method converges to a gradient flow, with a momentum-dependent time-rescaling, using the method of modified equations from numerical analysis. Further we show that the momentum method admits an exponentially attractive invariant manifold on which the dynamic reduces to a gradient flow with respect to a modified loss function, equal to the original one plus a small perturbation.

Additional Information

Both authors are supported, in part, by the US National Science Foundation (NSF) grant DMS 1818977, the US Office of Naval Research (ONR) grant N00014-17-1-2079, and the US Army Research Office (ARO) grant W911NF-12-2-0022.

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