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  1. Free, publicly-accessible full text available February 25, 2025
  2. Prompt-tuning is an emerging strategy to adapt large language models (LLM) to downstream tasks by learning a (soft-)prompt parameter from data. Despite its success in LLMs, there is limited theoretical understanding of the power of prompt-tuning and the role of the attention mechanism in prompting. In this work, we explore prompt-tuning for one-layer attention architectures and study contextual mixture-models where each input token belongs to a context-relevant or -irrelevant set. We isolate the role of prompttuning through a self-contained prompt-attention model. Our contributions are as follows: (1) We show that softmax-prompt-attention is provably more expressive than softmax-self-attention and linear-prompt-attention under our contextual data model. (2) We analyze the initial trajectory of gradient descent and show that it learns the prompt and prediction head with near-optimal sample complexity and demonstrate how the prompt can provably attend to sparse context-relevant tokens. (3) Assuming a known prompt but an unknown prediction head, we characterize the exact finite sample performance of prompt-attention which reveals the fundamental performance limits and the precise benefit of the context information. We also provide experiments that verify our theoretical insights on real datasets and demonstrate how prompt-tuning enables the model to attend to context-relevant information. 
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  3. Standard federated optimization methods successfully apply to stochastic problems with singlelevel structure. However, many contemporary ML problems – including adversarial robustness, hyperparameter tuning, actor-critic – fall under nested bilevel programming that subsumes minimax and compositional optimization. In this work, we propose FEDNEST: A federated alternating stochastic gradient method to address general nested problems. We establish provable convergence rates for FEDNEST in the presence of heterogeneous data and introduce variations for bilevel, minimax, and compositional optimization. FEDNEST introduces multiple innovations including federated hypergradient computation and variance reduction to address inner-level heterogeneity. We complement our theory with experiments on hyperparameter & hyper-representation learning and minimax optimization that demonstrate the benefits of our method in practice. 
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  4. null (Ed.)
    We study convex empirical risk minimization for high-dimensional inference in binary linear classification under both discriminative binary linear models, as well as generative Gaussian-mixture models. Our first result sharply predicts the statistical performance of such estimators in the proportional asymptotic regime under isotropic Gaussian features. Importantly, the predictions hold for a wide class of convex loss functions, which we exploit to prove bounds on the best achievable performance. Notably, we show that the proposed bounds are tight for popular binary models (such as signed and logistic) and for the Gaussian-mixture model by constructing appropriate loss functions that achieve it. Our numerical simulations suggest that the theory is accurate even for relatively small problem dimensions and that it enjoys a certain universality property. 
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  5. null (Ed.)