Disentangling the Mechanisms Behind Implicit Regularization in SGD


A number of competing hypotheses have been proposed to explain why small-batch Stochastic Gradient Descent (SGD)leads to improved generalization over the full-batch regime, with recent work crediting the implicit regularization of various quantities throughout training. However, to date, empirical evidence assessing the explanatory power of these hypotheses is lacking. In this paper, we conduct an extensive empirical evaluation, focusing on the ability of various theorized mechanisms to close the small-to-large batch generalization gap. Additionally, we characterize how the quantities that SGD has been claimed to (implicitly) regularize change over the course of training. By using micro-batches, i.e. disjoint smaller subsets of each mini-batch, we empirically show that explicitly penalizing the gradient norm or the Fisher Information Matrix trace, averaged over micro-batches, in the large-batch regime recovers small-batch SGD generalization, whereas Jacobian-based regularizations fail to do so. This generalization performance is shown to often be correlated with how well the regularized model’s gradient norms resemble those of small-batch SGD. We additionally show that this behavior breaks down as the micro-batch size approaches the batch size. Finally, we note that in this line of inquiry, positive experimental findings on CIFAR10 are often reversed on other datasets like CIFAR100, highlighting the need to test hypotheses on a wider collection of datasets.

ICLR, 2023 & Spotlight at the NeurIPS Workshop for Higher Order Optimization in Machine Learning, 2022.
Simran Kaur
Simran Kaur
PhD Student