Gradientless Descent: High-Dimensional Zeroth-Order Optimization

Google Scholar


Zeroth-order optimization is the process of minimizing an objective $f(x)$ given oracle access to evaluations at adaptively chosen inputs $x$. In this paper, we present two simple yet powerful GradientLess Descent (GLD) algorithms that do not rely on an underlying gradient estimate and are numerically stable. We analyze our algorithm from a novel geometric perspective and we derive two invariance properties of our algorithm: monotone and affine invariance. Specifically, for {\it any monotone transform} of a smooth and strongly convex objective with latent dimension $k$, then we present a novel analysis that shows convergence within an $\epsilon$-ball of the optimum in $O(kQ\log(n)\log(R/\epsilon))$ evaluations, where the input dimension is $n$, $R$ is the diameter of the input space and $Q$ is the condition number. Our rates are the first of its kind to be both 1) poly-logarithmically dependent on dimensionality and 2) invariant under monotone transformations. From our geometric perspective, we can further show that our analysis is optimal. We emphasize that monotone and affine invariance are key to the empirical success of gradientless algorithms, as demonstrated on BBOB and MuJoCo benchmarks.