Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 33 (NeurIPS 2020)
Stefano Sarao Mannelli, Giulio Biroli, Chiara Cammarota, Florent Krzakala, Pierfrancesco Urbani, Lenka Zdeborová
Despite the widespread use of gradient-based algorithms for optimising high-dimensional non-convex functions, understanding their ability of finding good minima instead of being trapped in spurious ones remains to a large extent an open problem. Here we focus on gradient flow dynamics for phase retrieval from random measurements. When the ratio of the number of measurements over the input dimension is small the dynamics remains trapped in spurious minima with large basins of attraction. We find analytically that above a critical ratio those critical points become unstable developing a negative direction toward the signal. By numerical experiments we show that in this regime the gradient flow algorithm is not trapped; it drifts away from the spurious critical points along the unstable direction and succeeds in finding the global minimum. Using tools from statistical physics we characterise this phenomenon, which is related to a BBP-type transition in the Hessian of the spurious minima.