Google Research

Sampled softmax with random fourier features

Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems (NeurIPS) (2019) (to appear)

Abstract

The computational cost of training with softmax cross entropy loss grows linearly with the number of classes. For the settings where a large number of classes are involved, a common method to speed up training is to sample a subset of classes and utilize an estimate of the gradient based on these classes, known as the \emph{sampled softmax} method. However, the sampled softmax provides a biased estimate of the gradient unless the samples are drawn from the exact softmax distribution, which is again expensive to compute. Therefore, a widely employed practical approach (without theoretical justification) involves sampling from a simpler distribution in the hope of approximating the exact softmax distribution. In this paper, we develop the first theoretical understanding of the role that different sampling distributions play in determining the quality of sampled softmax. Motivated by our analysis and the work on kernel-based sampling, we propose the {\em Random Fourier Softmax} (RF-softmax) method that utilizes the powerful Random Fourier features to enable more efficient and accurate sampling from the (approximate) softmax distribution. We show that RF-softmax leads to low biased estimation in terms of both the full softmax distribution and the full softmax gradient. Furthermore, the cost of RF-softmax scales only logarithmically with the number of classes.

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