# The Steepest Descent Algorithm for Unconstrained Optimization and a Bisection Line-search Method

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1 The Steepest Descent Algorithm for Unconstrained Optimization and a Bisection Line-search Method Robert M. Freund February, Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 1

2 1 The Algorithm The problem we are interested in solving is: P : minimize f(x) s.t. x R n, where f(x) is differentiable. If x = x is a given point, f(x) can be approximated by its linear expansion f( x + d) f( x)+ f( x) T d if d small, i.e., if d is small. Now notice that if the approximation in the above expression is good, then we want to choose d so that the inner product f( x) T d is as small as possible. Let us normalize d so that d = 1. Then among all directions d with norm d = 1, the direction d = f( x) f( x) makes the smallest inner product with the gradient f( x). This fact follows from the following inequalities: ( ) f( x) d = f( ) T f( x) T x) d f( x = f( ) x T d. f( x) For this reason the un-normalized direction: d = f( x) is called the direction of steepest descent at the point x. Note that d = f( x) is a descent direction as long as f( x) =0. To see this, simply observe that d T f( x) = ( f( x)) T f( x) < 0solongas f( x) =0.

3 A natural consequence of this is the following algorithm, called the steepest descent algorithm. Steepest Descent Algorithm: Step 0. Given x 0,set k := 0 Step 1. d k := f (x k ). If d k = 0, then stop. Step. Solve min α f (x k + αd k ) for the stepsize α k, perhaps chosen by an exact or inexact linesearch. Step 3. Set x k+1 x k + α k d k,k k +1. Go to Step 1. Note from Step and the fact that d k = f (x k ) is a descent direction, it follows that f (x k+1 ) < f (x k ). Global Convergence We have the following theorem: Convergence Theorem: Suppose that f ( ) : R n R is continuously differentiable on the set S = {x R n f (x) f (x 0 )}, and that S is a closed and bounded set. Then every point x that is a cluster point of the sequence {x k } satisfies f ( x) =0. Proof: The proof of this theorem is by contradiction. By the Weierstrass Theorem, at least one cluster point of the sequence {x k } must exist. Let x be any such cluster point. Without loss of generality, assume that lim k k x = x, but that f ( x) = 0. This being the case, there is a value of α> 0 such that δ := f ( x) f ( x + αd) > 0, where d = f ( x). Then also ( x + αd) ints. 3

4 Now lim k d k = d. Then since ( x + αd) ints, and (x k + αd k ) ( x + αd), for k sufficiently large we have However, δ f (x k αd k δ + ) f ( x + αd)+ x) δ + δ = f ( = f ( x). f ( x) < f (x k + α k d k ) f (x k + αd k ) f ( x) which is of course a contradiction. Thus d = f ( x) =0. q.e.d. δ, 3 The Rate of Convergence for the Case of a Quadratic Function In this section we explore answers to the question of how fast the steepest descent algorithm converges. We say that an algorithm exhibits linear convergence in the objective function values if there is a constant δ< 1such that for all k sufficiently large, the iterates x k satisfy: f (x k+1 ) f (x ) f (x k ) f (x δ, ) where x is some optimal value of the problem P. The above statement says that the optimality gap shrinks by at least δ at each iteration. Notice that if δ = 0.1, for example, then the iterates gain an extra digit of accuracy in the optimal objective function value at each iteration. If δ = 0.9, for example, then the iterates gain an extra digit of accuracy in the optimal objective function value every iterations, since (0.9) The quantity δ above is called the convergence constant. We would like this constant to be smaller rather than larger. We will show now that the steepest descent algorithm exhibits linear convergence, but that the convergence constant depends very much on the ratio of the largest to the smallest eigenvalue of the Hessian matrix H(x) at 4

5 the optimal solution x = x. In order to see how this arises, we will examine the case where the objective function f (x) is itself a simple quadratic function of the form: f (x) = 1 x T Qx + q T x, where Q is a positive definite symmetric matrix. We will suppose that the eigenvalues of Q are A = a 1 a... a n = a > 0, i.e, A and a are the largest and smallest eigenvalues of Q. The optimal solution of P is easily computed as: x = Q 1 q and direct substitution shows that the optimal objective function value is: 1 T Q 1 f (x )= q q. For convenience, let x denote the current point in the steepest descent algorithm. We have: f (x) = 1 x T Qx + q T x and let d denote the current direction, which is the negative of the gradient, i.e., d = f (x) = Qx q. Now let us compute the next iterate of the steepest descent algorithm. If α is the generic step-length, then 1 f (x + αd) = (x + αd) T Q(x + αd)+ q T (x + αd) 5

6 1 T = 1 x T Qx + αd T Qx + α d T Qd + q x + αq T d 1 = f (x) αd T d + α d T Qd. Optimizing the value of α in this last expression yields d T d α = d T Qd, and the next iterate of the algorithm then is and d T d x = x + αd = x + d, d T Qd 1 (d T d) f (x )= f (x + αd) = f (x) αd T d + 1 α d T Qd = f (x). d T Qd Therefore, f (x ) f (x ) f (x) 1 (d T d) f (x ) d = T Qd f (x) f (x ) f (x) f (x ) =1 =1 1 (d T d) d T Qd 1 x T Qx + q T x + 1 qt Q 1 q 1 (d T d) d T Qd 1 (Qx + q)t Q 1 (Qx + q) (d T d) =1 (d T Qd)(d T Q 1 d) 1 =1 β where (d T Qd)(d T Q 1 d) β =. (d T d) 6

7 In order for the convergence constant to be good, which will translate to fast linear convergence, we would like the quantity β to be small. The following result provides an upper bound on the value of β. Kantorovich Inequality: Let A and a be the largest and the smallest eigenvalues of Q, respectively. Then β (A + a). 4Aa We will prove this inequality later. For now, let us apply this inequality to the above analysis. Continuing, we have ( f (x ) f (x ) 1 4Aa = (A a) A/a 1 ) =1 1 = =: δ. f (x) f (x ) β (A + a) (A + a) A/a +1 Note by definition that A/a is always at least 1. If A/a is small (not much bigger than 1), then the convergence constant δ will be much smaller than 1. However, if A/a is large, then the convergence constant δ will be only slightly smaller than 1. Table 1 shows some sample values. Note that the number of iterations needed to reduce the optimality gap by a factor of 10 grows linearly in the ratio A/a. 4 Examples 4.1 Example 1: Typical Behavior In step 1 of the steepest descent algorithm, we need to compute ( ) ( ) k k k 10x1 4xk +14 dk 1 d k = f (x1,x )= xk = 4xk 1 +6 dk 7 Consider the function f (x 1,x )=5x 1 + x +4x 1 x 14x 1 6x + 0. This function has its optimal solution at x =(x 1,x )=(1, 1) and f (1, 1) = 10.

8 A a Upper Bound on δ = ( A/a 1 A/a+1 ) Number of Iterations to Reduce the Optimality Gap by a factor of Table 1: Sensitivity of Steepest Descent Convergence Rate to the Eigenvalue Ratio andinstepwe need to solve α k =arg min α h(α) = f (x k + αd k ). In this example we will be able to derive an analytic expression for α k. Notice that h(α) = f (x k + αd k ) = k k k k 5(x 1 + αd k 1) +(x ) +4(x 1 + αd k + αd k 1)(x + αd) k k k 14(x 1) 6(x + αd k 1 + αd k )+0, and this is a simple quadratic function of the scalar α. It is minimized at α k = (d k 1 ) +(d k ) (5(d k ) +4d k ) 1 ) +(d k 1 dk Using the steepest descent algorithm to minimize f (x) starting from 1 1 x 1 =(x 1,x )=(0, 10), and using a tolerance of ɛ = 10 6, we compute the iterates shown in Table and in Figure : For a convex quadratic function f (x) = 1 x T Qx c T x, the contours of the function values will be shaped like ellipsoids, and the gradient vector f (x) at any point x will be perpendicular to the contour line passing through x, see Figure 1. 8

9 k x k 1 x k k d 1 k d d k α k f (x k ) Table : Iterations of the example in Subsection

10 5 x +4 y +3 x y+7 x y x Figure 1: The contours of a convex quadratic function are ellipsoids. 4. Example : Hem-Stitching Consider the function f(x) = 1 xt Qx c T x +10 where Q and c are given by: and Q = c = ( ( 14 6 ) ) 10

11 Figure : Behavior of the steepest descent algorithm for the example of Subsection 4.1. A For this problem, a =30.34, and so the linear convergence rate δ of ( A/a 1 ) the steepest descent algorithm is bounded above by δ = A/a+1 = If we apply the steepest descent algorithm to minimize f (x) starting from x 1 =(40, 100), we obtain the iteration values shown in Table 3 and shown graphically in Figure Example 3: Rapid Convergence Consider the function f (x) = 1 x T Qx c T x

12 k x k 1 x k d k α k f (x k ) f (x k ) f (x ) f (x k 1 ) f (x ) Table 3: Iteration values for example of Subsection 4., which shows hemstitching. where Q and c are given by: ( ) 0 5 Q = 5 16 and ( ) 14 c = 6 A For this problem, a =1.8541, and so the linear convergence rate δ of ( ) A 1 a the steepest descent algorithm is bounded above by δ = = A +1 a 1

13 Figure 3: Hem-stitching in the example of Subsection 4.. If we apply the steepest descent algorithm to minimize f (x) starting from x 1 =(40, 100), we obtain the iteration values shown in Table 4 and shown graphically in Figure 4. Figure 4: Rapid convergence in the example of Subsection

14 k x k 1 x k d k α k f (x k ) f (x k ) f (x ) f (x k 1 ) f (x ) Table 4: Iteration values for the example in Subsection 4.3, which exhibits rapid convergence. 4.4 Example 4: A nonquadratic function Let 4 4 f (x) = x 1 0.6x +4x x 4 log(x i ) log(5 x i ). i=1 i=1 Table 5 shows values of the iterates of steepest descent applied to this function. 4.5 Example 5: An analytic example Suppose that f (x) = 1 x T Qx + q T x 14

15 k x k 1 x k x k 3 x k 4 d k f (x k ) f (x k ) f (x ) f (x k 1 ) f (x ) Table 5: Iteration values for the example of Subsection

16 where ( ) ( ) +4 + Q = and q =. + Then ( )( ) ( ) +4 x + f (x) = x and so ( ) 0 x = 1 and f (x )= 1. Direct computation shows that the eigenvalues of Q are A =3 + 5and a = 3 5, whereby the bound on the convergence constant is ( A/a 1 ) δ = A/a +1 Suppose that x 0 =(0, 0). Then we have: x 1 =( 0.4, 0.4), x =(0, 0.8) and the even numbered iterates satisfy x n =(0, 1 0. n ) and f (x n )=(1 0. n ) + (0.) n and so f (x n ) f (x )=(0.) n. Therefore, starting from the point x 0 =(0, 0), the optimality gap goes down by a factor of 0.04 after every two iterations of the algorithm. 5 Final Remarks The proof of convergence is basic in that it only relies on fundamental properties of the continuity of the gradient and on the closedness and boundedness of the level sets of the function f (x). The analysis of the rate of convergence is quite elegant. 16

17 Kantorovich won the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1975 for his contributions to the application of linear programming to economic theory. The bound on the rate of convergence is attained in practice quite often, which is too bad. The ratio of the largest to the smallest eigenvalue of a matrix is called the condition number of the matrix. The condition number plays an extremely important role in the theory and the computation of quantities involving the matrix Q. What about non-quadratic functions? Most functions behave as nearquadratic functions in a neighborhood of the optimal solution. The analysis of the non-quadratic case gets very involved; fortunately, the key intuition is obtained by analyzing the quadratic case. 6 A Bisection Algorithm for a Line-Search of a Convex Function Suppose that f(x) is a continuously differentiable convex function, and that we seek to solve: α := arg min f( x + αd ), α where x is our current iterate, and d is the current direction generated by an algorithm that seeks to minimize f(x). Suppose further that d is a descent direction of f(x) at x =, x namely: Let f( x + ɛd ) < f( x) for all ɛ >0 and sufficiently small. h(α) := f( x + αd ), whereby h(α) is a convex function in the scalar variable α, and our problem is to solve for ᾱ =arg min h(α). α We therefore seek a value ᾱ for which h (ᾱ) =0. 17

18 It is elementary to show that Proposition 6.1 h (0) < 0. q.e.d. h (α) = f ( x + αd) T d. Because h(α) is a convex function of α, wealsohave: Proposition 6. h (α) is a monotone increasing function α. of q.e.d. Figure 5 shows an example of convex function of two variables to be optimized. Figure 6 shows the function h(α) obtained by restricting the function of Figure 5 to the line shown in that figure. Note from Figure 6 that h(α) is convex. Therefore its first derivative h (α) will be a monotonically increasing function. This is shown in Figure 7. Because h (α) is a monotonically increasing function, we can approxiα, the point that satisfies h ( α) = 0, by a suitable bisection mately compute method. Suppose that we know a value α ˆ that h (ˆ α) > 0. Since h (0) < 0 and h (ˆ α) > 0, the mid-value α = 0+ α ˆ is a suitable test-point. Note the following: If h ( α) = 0, we are done. If h ( α) > 0, we can now bracket α in the interval (0, α). If h ( α) < 0, we can now bracket α in the interval ( α, α). ˆ This leads to the following bisection algorithm for minimizing h(α) = f ( x + αd) by solving the equation h (α) 0. Step 0. Set k = 0. Set α l := 0 and α u := ˆα. α = αu+α l Step k. Set and compute h ( α). 18

19 f(x,x 30) x Figure 5: A convex function to be optimized. 19 x1

20 h(α) α Figure 6: The 1-dimensional function h(α) h (α) α Figure 7: The function h (α) is monotonically increasing. 0

21 If h ( α) > 0, re-set α u := α. Set k k +1. If h ( α) < 0, re-set α l := α. Set k k +1. If h ( α) = 0, stop. Proposition 6.3 After every iteration of the bisection algorithm, the current interval [α l,α u ] must contain a point α such that h ( α) =0. Proposition 6.4 At the k th iteration of the bisection algorithm, the length of the current interval [α l,α u ] is ( ) 1 k L = (ˆα). Proposition 6.5 A value of α such that α ᾱ ɛ canbefoundinat most ( ) ˆα log ɛ steps of the bisection algorithm. 6.1 Computing α for which h (ˆ ˆ α) > 0 Suppose that we do not have available a convenient value αˆ for which h (ˆ α) > 0. One way to proceed is to pick an initial guess of α ˆ and compute h (ˆ α). If h (ˆ α) > 0, then proceed to the bisection algorithm; if h (ˆ α) 0, then re-set α ˆ ˆ α and repeat the process. 6. Stopping Criteria for the Bisection Algorithm In practice, we need to run the bisection algorithm with a stopping criterion. Some relevant stopping criteria are: Stop after a fixed number of iterations. That is stop when k = K, where K specified by the user. Stop when the interval becomes small. That is, stop when α u α l ɛ, where ɛ is specified by the user. Stop when h ( α) becomes small. That is, stop when h ( α) ɛ, where ɛ is specified by the user. This third stopping criterion typically yields the best results in practice. 1

22 6.3 Modification of the Bisection Algorithm when the Domain of f (x) is Restricted The discussion and analysis of the bisection algorithm has presumed that our optimization problem is P : minimize f (x) n s.t. x R. Given a point x and a direction d, the line-search problem then is LS : minimize h(α) := f ( x + αd ) s.t. α R. n Suppose instead that the domain of definition of f (x) isanopenset X R. Then our optimization problem is: P : minimize f (x) s.t. x X, and the line-search problem then is LS : minimize h(α) := f ( x + αd ) s.t. x + αd X. In this case, we must ensure that all iterate values of α in the bisection alx + αd X. As an example, consider the following gorithm satisfy problem: m P : minimize f (x) := ln(b i A i x) i=1 s.t. b Ax > 0.

23 Here the domain of f(x) is X = {x R b Ax > 0}. Given x X and a direction d, the line-search problem is: n a point LS : minimize h(α) := f( x + αd ) = m ln(b i A i ( x + αd )) i=1 s.t. b A( x + αd ) > 0. Standard arithmetic manipulation can be used to establish that b A( x + αd ) > 0 if and only if α<α< ˇ αˆ where { b } { } i A i x b i A i x α ˇ := min and α ˆ := min, A i d<0 A i d A i d>0 A i d and the line-search problem then is: m LS : minimize h(α) := ln(b i A i ( x + αd )) i=1 s.t. α<α< ˇ α. ˆ 3

24 7 Proof of Kantorovich Inequality Kantorovich Inequality: Let A and a be the largest and the smallest eigenvalues of Q, respectively. Then (A + a) β. 4Aa Proof: Let Q = RDR T, and then Q 1 = RD 1 R T, where R = R T is an orthonormal matrix, and the eigenvalues of Q are 0 < a = a 1 a... a n = A, and, a a... 0 D = a n Then β = (d T RDR T d)(d T RD 1 R T d) f T Dff T D 1 f = (d T RR T d)(d T RR T d) f T ff T f n where f = R T f d.let λ i = f T i f. Then λ i 0and λ i =1, and i=1 n ( ) 1 n n ( ) λ 1 i a i i=1 β = λ i a i λ i =. a i=1 i=1 i 1 n λ i a i i=1 The largest value of β is when λ 1 + λ n = 1, see the illustration in Figure 8. Therefore, 4

25 1 1 λ 1 a + λ n A = (λ 1a + λ n A)(λ 1 A + λ n a) ( 1 A + 1 a)( 1 a + 1 A) (A + a) β 1 =. Aa Aa 4Aa q.e.d. λ 1 a+λ na y y = 1/x Σλ i (1/a i ) 1/(Σλ i a i ) 0 Σλ i a i 0 a 1 a a 3... a n x =a =A Figure 8: Illustration for proof of the Kantorovich Inequality. 5

26 8 Steepest Descent Exercises NOTE ON COMPUTATION EXERCISES: You may use any machine and any programming language. We recommend, however, that you use MATLAB on Athena or on your own computer. (The teaching assistant is prepared to help you get started in MATLAB on Athena.) Some of the specific details in the computation exercises are purposely left to your own discretion. For example, in cases where you must use a line-search routine, you must choose your own tolerance for the line-search. Also, you must choose your own stopping criteria for your computation. Please include your code or pseudo-code in your write-up. 1. (Steepest Descent) Suppose that x k and x k+1 are two consecutive points generated by the steepest descent algorithm with exact linesearch. Show that f(x k ) T f(x k+1 )=0.. (Steepest Descent) Suppose that we seek to minimize f(x 1,x )=5x +5x x 1 x 11x 1 +11x (a) Find a point satisfying the first-order necessary conditions for a solution. (b) Show that this point is a global minimum of f(x). (c) What would be the worst rate of convergence for the steepest descent algorithm for this problem? (d) Starting at (x 1,x )=(0, 0), at most how many steepest descent iterations would it take to reduce the function value to 10 11? 3. (Steepest Descent) Suppose we seek to minimize 1 T f(x) = x T Hx + c x +13, where ( ) ( ) H = and c = Implement the steepest descent algorithm on this problem, using the following starting points: 6

27 x 0 =(0, 0) T. x 0 =( 0.4, 0) T. x 0 =(10, 0) T. x 0 =(11, 0) T. As it turns out, the optimal solution to this problem is x =(5, 6) T, with f(x )=. What linear convergence constants do you observe for each of the above starting points? 4. (Steepest Descent) Suppose we seek to minimize 1 T f(x) = x T Hx + c x, where H = and c = Implement the steepest descent algorithm on this problem, using the following starting points. x 0 =(0, 0, 0) T. x 0 =(15.09, 7.66, 6.56) T. x 0 =(11.77, 6.4, 4.8) T. x 0 =(4.46,.5, 1.85) T. As it turns out, the optimal solution to this problem is x =(4, 3, 1) T, with f(x )= What linear convergence constants do you observe for each of the above starting points? 5. (Steepest Descent) Suppose that we seek to minimize the following function: f(x 1,x )= 9x 1 10x +θ( ln(100 x 1 x ) ln(x 1 ) ln(x ) ln(50 x 1 +x )), where θ is a given parameter. Note that the domain of this function is X = {(x 1,x ) x 1 > 0,x > 0,x 1 + x < 100,x 1 x < 50}. Implement the steepest descent algorithm for this problem, using the 7

28 bisection algorithm for your line-search, with the stopping criterion that h ( α) ɛ = Run your algorithm for θ = 10 and for θ = 100, using the following starting points. x 0 =(8, 90) T. x 0 =(1, 40) T. x 0 =(15, 68.69) T. x 0 =(10, 0) T. What linear convergence constants do you observe for each of the above starting points? Helpful Hint: Note that f(x 1,x ) is only defined on the domain X = {(x 1,x ) x 1 > 0,x > 0,x 1 + x < 100,x 1 x < 50}. If you are at a point x = ( x 1, x ) and you have computed a direction d = (d 1, d ), then note that a value of the upper bound ˆα is effectively given by the largest value of α for which the following constraints are satisfied: x 1 +αd 1 > 0, x +αd > 0, x 1 +αd 1+ x +αd < 100, x 1 +αd 1 x αd < 50. The largest value of α satisfying these conditions can easily be computed by applying appropriate logic. Important Note: Please keep the value of θ as a specific command in your code. The reason for this is that later in the semester, we will consider an algorithm where we iteratively change the value of θ. It will then be useful for your code to have a line in it where θ can be set and re-set. 8

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