Uniform-in-Time Weak Error Analysis for Stochastic Gradient Descent Algorithms via Diffusion Approximation

Yuanyuan Feng, Tingran Gao, Lei Li, Jian-Guo Liu, Yulong Lu

Diffusion approximation provides weak approximation for stochastic gradient descent algorithms in a finite time horizon. In this paper, we introduce new tools motivated by the backward error analysis of numerical stochastic differential equations into the theoretical framework of diffusion approximation, extending the validity of the weak approximation from finite to infinite time horizon. The new techniques developed in this paper enable us to characterize the asymptotic behavior of constant-step-size SGD algorithms for strongly convex objective functions, a goal previously unreachable within the diffusion approximation framework. Our analysis builds upon a truncated formal power expansion of the solution of a stochastic modified equation arising from diffusion approximation, where the main technical ingredient is a uniform-in-time weak error bound controlling the long-term behavior of the expansion coefficient functions near the global minimum. We expect these new techniques to greatly expand the range of applicability of diffusion approximation to cover wider and deeper aspects of stochastic optimization algorithms in data science.

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