DoWG Unleashed: An Efficient Universal Parameter-Free Gradient Descent Method


This paper proposes a new easy-to-implement parameter-free gradient-based optimizer: DoWG (Distance over Weighted Gradients). We prove that DoWG is efficient – matching the convergence rate of optimally tuned gradient descent in convex optimization up to a logarithmic factor without tuning any parameters, and universal – automatically adapting to both smooth and nonsmooth problems. While popular algorithms such as AdaGrad, Adam, or DoG compute a running average of the squared gradients, DoWG maintains a new distance-based weighted version of the running average, which is crucial to achieve the desired properties. To our best knowledge, DoWG is the first parameter-free, efficient, and universal algorithm that does not require backtracking search procedures. It is also the first parameter-free AdaGrad style algorithm that adapts to smooth optimization. To complement our theory, we also show empirically that DoWG trains at the edge of stability, and validate its effectiveness on practical machine learning tasks. This paper further uncovers the underlying principle behind the success of the AdaGrad family of algorithms by presenting a novel analysis of Normalized Gradient Descent (NGD), that shows NGD adapts to smoothness when it exists, with no change to the stepsize. This establishes the universality of NGD and partially explains the empirical observation that it trains at the edge of stability in a much more general setup compared to standard gradient descent. The latter might be of independent interest to the community.