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What is Gradient Descent in Machine Learning?

The loss function of a model is minimized throughout the training phase by using the optimization procedure known as gradient descent. It is mostly used in models that use supervised learning, where the model is trained on labeled data and further used to predict outcomes for unlabeled data.

"Augustin-Louis Cauchy" made the original discovery of gradient descent in the middle of the 18th century. One of the most used iterative optimization techniques in machine learning, is gradient descent which is also used to train both deep learning and machine learning models. It assists in locating a function's local minimum.

Continuous updating of the model's parameters in the opposite direction as the gradient (or slope) of the loss function with respect to those parameters is the fundamental tenet of gradient descent. The objective is to determine the parameters' ideal values in order to reduce loss and improve model performance on training data. These models gain knowledge over time by using training data, and the cost function in gradient descent especially serves as an indicator by assessing the correctness for each iteration of parameter changes.

What is Gradient Descent in Machine Learning

The goal of the gradient descent approach is to identify the ideal set of parameters that will reduce the cost function and enhance the performance of the model. It approaches the minimum of the cost function by continuously adjusting the parameters in the direction of the steepest descent. Depending on the properties of the cost function, the method might proceed iteratively until it reaches a local or global minimum.

An exemplary implementation of the Gradient Descent algorithm:

import numpy as np
def gradient_descent(start, gradient, learn_rate, max_iter, tol=0.01):
 steps = [start] # history tracking
 x = start
 for _ in range(max_iter):
 diff = learn_rate*gradient(x)
 if np.abs(diff)<tol:
 x = x - diff
 steps.append(x) # history tracing
 return steps, x


What is Gradient Descent in Machine Learning

Different Types of Gradient Descents

The different types of gradient descent are as follows:

1) Batch Gradient Descent (BGD): Using the whole training dataset, batch gradient descent helps to calculate the gradient of the loss function with respect to the model parameters for each iteration. BGD changes the parameters by computing the average gradient throughout the whole dataset, which can be computationally demanding for big datasets.

2) Stochastic Gradient Descent (SGD): In stochastic gradient descent, the gradient is computed for each iteration using a single randomly selected training sample. In comparison to BGD, SGD changes the model parameters more often and is computationally efficient. The gradient estimation's stochastic character, however, has the potential to increase noise and impede resolution.

3) Mini-Batch Gradient Descent: This method achieves a balance between BGD and SGD. Each iteration computes the gradient using a small batch of randomly chosen training data, generally between 10 and 1,000. Mini-batch gradient descent strikes a fair compromise between convergence speed and computational cost by combining the effectiveness of SGD with the stability of BGD.

4) Momentum-based Gradient Descent: Momentum is a strategy that reduces oscillations while accelerating gradient descent in the necessary direction. It incorporates a momentum term that builds up and adds to the most recent gradient update the exponentially weighted average of earlier gradients. This aids in accelerating convergence, particularly when there are noisy gradients or high-curvature regions present.

5) RMSprop: RMSprop is an additional adaptive learning rate method that corrects a few of Adagrad's flaws. RMSprop adjusts the learning rate by using the inverse square root of an exponentially weighted moving average of the squared gradients. It helps converge more quickly and adaptively slows down learning speed.

6) Adam (Adaptive Moment Estimation): Adam mixes momentum-based strategies with the idea of adaptable learning rates. Utilizing the first and second moments of the gradients, it adjusts the learning rate for each parameter. Adam does well across a wide range of applications and incorporates bias correction terms to counteract the impacts of the initial learning rate bias.

How does Gradient Descent Work?

The step-by-step process of how a gradient work is as follows:

1) Initialization: The algorithm begins by setting the parameters of the model to their starting values. These may be predetermined values or random values.

2) Calculate the loss: Using the current parameter values, the loss function is assessed. By calculating the difference between the output that was expected and the output that was actually produced, the loss function evaluates how effectively the model is working.

3) Calculate the gradient: The loss function's gradient with respect to each parameter is determined. The loss function's sharpest increase is shown by the gradient, which also shows its direction and amplitude. It illustrates how each parameter's variation affects the loss function.

4) By deducting a portion of the gradient from the existing parameter values, the parameters are updated. The learning rate, which regulates the step size used in each iteration, determines this proportion of how fast or slow the algorithm converges to the ideal answer depends on the learning rate.

5) Iterate: Repeat steps 2 through 4 up until a stopping point is reached. A maximum number of iterations, passing a predetermined threshold for the loss function, or other convergence conditions might serve as the stopping criterion. The parameters are adjusted depending on the gradient at each iteration, gradually heading in the direction of the ideal values that minimize the loss function.

Challenges Faced by Gradient Machine

Some of the challenges faced by gradient machine learning are;

1) Convergence to local optimum: Gradient descent may converge to a local optimum rather than the overall optimum in some challenging and non-convex optimization scenarios. Both the loss function's shape and the initial conditions are important. This may limit the model's performance and lead to less-than-ideal answers.

2) Sensitive to learning rate: The step size of the gradient descent iteration is controlled by the learning rate. If the learning rate is too high, gradient descent may overshoot the ideal and fail to converge. If the learning rate is too low, the approach might converge slowly. The right learning rate must be chosen for effective convergence.

3) Gradient vanishing/exploding: In deep neural networks with several layers, the gradients can either get smaller during reverse propagation (vanishing gradients) or grow much larger (exploding gradients). The lack of ability of the model to update prior layers due to disappearing gradients causes slow convergence or no learning at all. Exploding gradients can impair convergence and lead to instability.

4) Efficiency of computation: Computing gradients throughout the full dataset might be computationally costly for large-scale datasets or complicated models. Due to this, gradient descent may become difficult in some cases and slow down the training process. Techniques that estimate the gradient using a subset of the data or a single data point, such as stochastic gradient descent (SGD) and mini-batch gradient descent, are employed to overcome this issue.

5) Gradient descent is dependent on the gradient of the loss function with respect to the model parameters for non-differentiable loss functions. However, certain loss functions could not be differentiable or have challenging gradients. Alternative optimization methods or approximations could be necessary for such circumstances.

6) Initialization sensitivity: The performance and convergence of gradient descent can be significantly impacted by the initial settings of the model parameters. It might be difficult to select suitable beginning settings, particularly in deep neural networks when there are several parameters. This problem is frequently solved using methods like Xavier/Glorot initialization or random initialization.


In conclusion, deep learning and machine learning both make extensive use of the effective optimization approach gradient descent. By constantly altering a model's parameters in accordance with the gradients of the loss function, it seeks to identify the parameters that are best. Despite being successful, gradient descent has a number of drawbacks.

Gradient descent may not always lead to the global optimum in difficult and non-convex optimization problems, which may have an impact on the model's performance. The algorithm's stability and speed of convergence depend on the learning rate that is selected. Overshooting may occur if the learning rate is too high, whereas slow convergence may come from a low learning rate.

Vanishing or bursting gradients can prevent the updating of parameters in previous layers of deep neural networks and lead to instability. Another difficulty is computational efficiency, particularly when dealing with huge datasets or complicated models. This is addressed by employing subsets of the data for gradient estimation using techniques like random gradient descent and mini-batch gradient descent.

Overall, gradient descent is still a fundamental and useful optimization process, and by knowing its limitations and using the right methods, machine learning models may be trained more effectively and efficiently.