Unconstrained optimization part I


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  • The following topics will be covered in this lecture:
    • Concepts in optimization
    • Local versus global optimum
    • Convexity
    • Gradient descent versus Newton descent

Concepts in optimization

  • The maximization and minimization of functions, or optimization problems, contain two components:

    1. an objective function \( f(\mathbf{x}) \); and
    2. constraints \( g(\mathbf{x}) \).
  • E.g., we may wish to optimize factory output \( f(x) \) as a function of hours \( x \) in a week, with a measure of our active machine-hours \( g(x) \) not exceeding a pre-specified limitation \( g(x)\leq C \).

  • Optimization problems can thus be classified into two categories:

    • If there are constraints \( g(\mathbf{x}) \) affiliated with the objective function \( f(\mathbf{x}) \), then it is a constrained optimization problem, otherwise, it is a unconstrained optimization problem.
  • We will focus on unconstrained optimization as often arises in MLE; this is formulated as the following problem,

    \[ \begin{align} f: \mathbb{R}^n &\rightarrow \mathbb{R}\\ \mathbf{x} &\rightarrow f(\mathbf{x})\\ f(\mathbf{x}^\ast) &= \mathrm{max}_{\mathbf{x} \in \mathcal{D}} f \end{align} \]

  • We note that the above problem is equivalent to a minimization problem by a subsitution of \( \tilde{f} = -f \), i.e.,

    \[ \begin{align} \tilde{f}: \mathbb{R}^n &\rightarrow \mathbb{R}\\ \mathbf{x} &\rightarrow -f(\mathbf{x})\\ f(\mathbf{x}^\ast) &= \mathrm{max}_{\mathbf{x} \in \mathcal{D}} \tilde{f} = \mathrm{min}_{\mathbf{x}\in \mathcal{D}} f \end{align} \]

Concepts in optimization

  • Because these problems are equivalent, we focus on the minimization of functions at the moment as they are traditionally phrased in optimization literature.
  • The same techniques will apply for maximization by a simple change of variables.
  • We will need to identify a few key concepts: global and local minimizers.
  • Suppose we are trying to minimize an objective function \( f \).
  • We would ideally find a global minimizer of \( f \), a point where the function attains its least value over all possible values under consideration:
    A point \( \mathbf{x}^\ast \) is a global minimizer if \( f(\mathbf{x}^\ast) \leq f(\mathbf{x}) \) for all other possible \( \mathbf{x} \) in the domain of consideration \( D\subset \mathbb{R}^n \).
  • A global minimizer can be difficult to find, because our knowledge of \( f \) is usually only local;
A difficult global minimization.

Courtesy of: J. Nocedal and S. Wright. Numerical optimization. Springer Science & Business Media, 2006.

    • i.e., we only can approximate the behavior of the function \( f \) within small perturbations \( \boldsymbol{\delta}_{x} \) of values \( \mathbf{x} \) where we already know \( f(\mathbf{x}) \).
  • Since our algorithm hopefully does not need to compute \( f \) over many points, we usually do not have a good picture of the overall shape of \( f \),
    • generally, we can never be sure that the function does not take a sharp dip in some region that has not been sampled by the algorithm.

Concepts in optimization

  • Most algorithms are able to find only a local minimizer, which is a point that achieves the smallest value of \( f \) in its neighborhood, i.e.,
Let \( \mathcal{N}\subset \mathcal{D} \subset\mathbb{R}^n \) be a neighborhood of the point \( \mathbf{x}^\ast \) in the domain of consideration. We say \( \mathbf{x}^\ast \) is a local minimizer in the neighborhood of \( \mathcal{N} \) if \[ \begin{align} f(\mathbf{x}^\ast) \leq f(\mathbf{x}) & & \text{ for each other }\mathbf{x}\in \mathcal{N} \end{align} \]
  • For finding a local minimizer, the main tools will be derived directly from the second order approximation of the objective function \( f \), defined by

    \[ \begin{align} f(\mathbf{x}_1) \approx f(\mathbf{x}_0) + \left(\nabla f(\mathbf{x}_0)\right)^\mathrm{T} \boldsymbol{\delta}_{x_1}+\frac{1}{2} \boldsymbol{\delta}_{x_1}^\mathrm{T}\mathbf{H}_f (\mathbf{x}_0) \boldsymbol{\delta}_{x_1} \end{align} \]

  • We will consider how this is related to the notion of convexity as follows.


Image of the upper region enclosed by a convex function.

Courtesy of: Oleg Alexandrov. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

  • Throughout mathematics, the notion of convexity is a powerful tool, often used in optimization.
  • Particularly, a function is convex if and only if the region above its graph is a convex set.
    • The convexity of the full epigraph set means that the function attains a global minimum over its entire domain.
  • In non-convex functions, we can have regions that are also locally convex in the graph of the function.
  • For such regions, we can find local minimizers as defined in the last slide.
  • In a single variable, this is phrased in terms of the second derivative test, i.e.,
    For the function of one variable \( f(x) \) we say that \( x^\ast \) is a local minimizer if \( f'(x^\ast)=0 \) and \( f''(x^\ast)> 0 \).
  • There is a direct analogy for a function of multiple variables, but this need to be rephrased slightly.

The second derivative test with the Hessian

  • For a real-valued function of multiple variables, \[ f:\mathbb{R}^n \rightarrow \mathbb{R}, \] we will instead phrase the second derivative test in terms of the Hessian of \( f \), \[ \begin{align} \mathbf{H}_{f} = \begin{pmatrix} \partial_{x_1}^2 f & \cdots & \partial_{x_1}\partial_{x_n}f \\ \vdots &\ddots & \vdots \\ \partial_{x_n}\partial_{x_1} f & \cdots & \partial_{x_n}^2 f \end{pmatrix} \end{align} \]
  • Particularly, the spectral theorem says the Hessian has an eigen decomposition such that by a change of coordinates, \( \mathbf{H}_f \) will be diagonal.