Frequency-aware SGD for Efficient Embedding Learning with Provable Benefits

International Conference on Learning Representations (ICLR)


Embedding learning has found widespread applications in recommendation systems and natural language modeling, among other domains. To learn quality embeddings efficiently, adaptive learning rate algorithms have demonstrated superior empirical performance over SGD, largely accredited to their token-dependent learning rate. However, the underlying mechanism for the efficiency of token-dependent learning rate remains underexplored. We show that incorporating frequency information of tokens in the embedding learning problems leads to provably efficient algorithms, and demonstrate that common adaptive algorithms implicitly exploit the frequency information to a large extent. Specifically, we propose (Counter-based) Frequency-aware Stochastic Gradient Descent, which applies a frequency-dependent learning rate for each token, and exhibits provable speed-up compared to SGD when the token distribution is imbalanced. Empirically, we show the proposed algorithms are able to improve or match adaptive algorithms on benchmark recommendation tasks and a large-scale industrial recommendation system, closing the performance gap between SGD and adaptive algorithms, while using significantly lower memory. Our results are the first to show token-dependent learning rate provably improves convergence for non-convex embedding learning problems.

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