High-dimensional limit theorems for SGD: Effective dynamics and critical scaling
Gerard Ben Arous · Reza Gheissari · Aukosh Jagannath
We study the scaling limits of stochastic gradient descent (SGD) with constant step-size in the high-dimensional regime. We prove limit theorems for the trajectories of summary statistics (i.e., finite-dimensional functions) of SGD as the dimension goes to infinity. Our approach allows one to choose the summary statistics that are tracked, the initialization, and the step-size. It yields both ballistic (ODE) and diffusive (SDE) limits, with the limit depending dramatically on the former choices. We find a critical scaling regime for the step-size below which this ``effective dynamics" matches gradient flow for the population loss, but at which, a new correction term appears which changes the phase diagram. About the fixed points of this effective dynamics, the corresponding diffusive limits can be quite complex and even degenerate. We demonstrate our approach on popular examples including estimation for spiked matrix and tensor models and classification via two-layer networks for binary and XOR-type Gaussian mixture models. These examples exhibit surprising phenomena including multimodal timescales to convergence as well as convergence to sub-optimal solutions with probability bounded away from zero from random (e.g., Gaussian) initializations.