On Noisy Evaluation in Federated Hyperparameter Tuning

Part of Proceedings of Machine Learning and Systems 5 pre-proceedings (MLSys 2023) mlsys2023


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Kevin Kuo, Pratiksha Thaker, Mikhail Khodak, John Nguyen, Daniel Jiang, Ameet Talwalkar, Virginia Smith


Hyperparameter tuning is critical to the success of federated learning applications. Unfortunately, appropriately selecting hyperparameters is challenging in federated networks, as issues of scale, privacy, and heterogeneity introduce noise in the tuning process and make it difficult to faithfully evaluate the performance of various hyperparameters. In this work we perform the first systematic study on the effect of noisy evaluation in federated hyperparameter tuning. We first identify and rigorously explore key sources of noise, including client subsampling, data and systems heterogeneity, and data privacy. Surprisingly, our results indicate that even small amounts of noise can have a significant impact on tuning methods—reducing the performance of state-of-the-art approaches to that of naive baselines. To address noisy evaluation in such scenarios, we propose a simple and effective approach that leverages public proxy data to boost evaluation signal. Our work establishes general challenges, baselines, and best practices for future work in federated hyperparameter tuning.