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Lion Secretly Solves a Constrained Optimization: As Lyapunov Predicts

Lizhang Chen · Bo Liu · Kaizhao Liang · Qiang Liu

Halle B #162
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Tue 7 May 7:30 a.m. PDT — 9:30 a.m. PDT

Abstract: Lion (Evolved Sign Momentum), a new optimizer discovered through program search, has shown promising results in training large AI models. It achieves results comparable to AdamW but with greater memory efficiency. As what we can expect from the result of the random search, Lion blends a number of elements from existing algorithms, including signed momentum, decoupled weight decay, Polayk and Nesterov momentum, but doesn't fit into any existing category of theoretically grounded optimizers. Thus, even though Lion appears to perform well as a general-purpose optimizer for a wide range of tasks, its theoretical basis remains uncertain. This absence of theoretical clarity limits opportunities to further enhance and expand Lion's efficacy. This work aims to demystify Lion. Using both continuous-time and discrete-time analysis, we demonstrate that Lion is a novel and theoretically grounded approach for minimizing a general loss function $f(x)$ while enforcing a bound constraint $||x||_\infty \leq 1/\lambda$. Lion achieves this through the incorporation of decoupled weight decay, where $\lambda$ represents the weight decay coefficient. Our analysis is facilitated by the development of a new Lyapunov function for the Lion updates. It applies to a wide range of Lion-$\phi$ algorithms, where the $sign(\cdot)$ operator in Lion is replaced by the subgradient of a convex function $\phi$, leading to the solution of the general composite optimization problem $\min_x f(x) + \phi^*(x)$. Our findings provide valuable insights into the dynamics of Lion and pave the way for further enhancements and extensions of Lion-related algorithms.

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