Federated learning is the problem of training a model that incorporates updates from the data of many individuals, without having direct access to that data, or having to store it. This is potentially desirable both for reasons of privacy (not wanting to have access to private data in a centralized way), and for potential benefits to transport cost when data needed to train models exists on a user's device, and would require a lot of bandwidth to transfer to a centralized server. Historically, the default way to do Federated Learning was with an algorithm called FedSGD, which worked by: - Sending a copy of the current model to each device/client - Calculating a gradient update to be applied on top of that current model given a batch of data sampled from the client's device - Sending that gradient back to the central server - Averaging those gradients and applying them all at once to a central model The authors note that this approach is equivalent to one where a single device performs a step of gradient descent locally, sends the resulting *model* back to the the central server, and performs model averaging by averaging the parameter vectors there. Given that, and given their observation that, in federated learning, communication of gradients and models is generally much more costly than the computation itself (since the computation happens across so many machines), they ask whether the communication required to get to a certain accuracy could be better optimized by performing multiple steps of gradient calculation and update on a given device, before sending the resulting model back to a central server to be average with other clients models. Specifically, their algorithm, FedAvg, works by: - Dividing the data on a given device into batches of size B - Calculating an update on each batch and applying them sequentially to the starting model sent over the wire from the server - Repeating this for E epochs Conceptually, this should work perfectly well in the world where data from each batch is IID - independently drawn from the same distribution. But that is especially unlikely to be true in the case of federated learning, when a given user and device might have very specialized parts of the data space, and prior work has shown that there exist pathological cases where averaged models can perform worse than either model independently, even *when* the IID condition is met. The authors experiment empirically ask the question whether these sorts of pathological cases arise when simulating a federated learning procedure over MNIST and a language model trained on Shakespeare, trying over a range of hyperparameters (specifically B and E), and testing the case where data is heavily non-IID (in their case: where different "devices" had non-overlapping sets of digits). https://i.imgur.com/xq9vi8S.png They show that, in both the IID and non-IID settings, they are able to reach their target accuracy, and are able to do so with many fewer rounds of communciation than are required by FedSGD (where an update is sent over the wire, and a model sent back, for each round of calculation done on the device.) The authors argue that this shows the practical usefulness of a Federated Learning approach that does more computation on individual devices before updating, even in the face of theoretical pathological cases.