Beyond Worst-Case Analysis in Stochastic Approximation: Moment Estimation Improves Instance Complexity
We study oracle complexity of gradient based methods for stochastic approximation problems. Though optimal algorithms and tight lower bounds are known for such problems in many settings, these optimal algorithms do not achieve the best performance when used in practice. We address this theory-practice gap by focusing on instance-dependent complexity instead of worst case complexity. In particular, we first summarize known instance-dependent complexity results and categorize them into three levels. We identify the domination relation between different levels and propose a fourth instance-dependent bound that dominates existing ones. We then provide a sufficient condition according to which an adaptive algorithm with moment estimation can achieve the proposed bound without knowledge of noise levels. Our proposed algorithm and its analysis provide a theoretical justification for the success of moment estimation as it achieves improved instance complexity.