Background: I want to solve an optimization problem like

$$\begin{align*}\text{minimize }&f(x)\\ \text{subject to }&\|x\| \le 1.\end{align*}$$

where $x \in \mathbb{R}^d$, $\|\cdot\|$ is the $L_2$ norm, and $f(x)$ is a concave, smooth, continuously differentiable function $f:\mathbb{R}^d \to \mathbb{R}$. I'd like to use an existing solver.

One natural heuristic approach is to choose a constant $c \in \mathbb{R}$, solve the optimization problem

$$\begin{align*}\text{minimize }&f(x) + c \cdot \|x\|^2\\ \text{subject to }&x \in [-1,1]^d,\end{align*}$$

and do a one-dimensional search for $c$ such that the resulting solution satisfies $||x|| \le 1$ and makes $f(x)$ as small as possible. This raises the following theoretical question.

My question: Is this heuristic always guaranteed to find the optimal solution?

In other words, does there always exist a constant $c \ge 0$ such that the optimal solution to

$$\begin{align*}\text{minimize }&f(x) + c \cdot \|x\|^2\\ \text{subject to }&x \in [-1,1]^d,\end{align*}$$

is also an optimal solution to

$$\begin{align*}\text{minimize }&f(x)\\ \text{subject to }&\|x\| \le 1?\end{align*}$$

Or, are there are conditions on $f$ that are sufficient that such a $c$ must exist? In my situation, I expect that $f$ is "nice", and it would be useful to characterize conditions under which this heuristic should be expected to work.

Also, is there a reason to believe that for this value of $c$, $f(x) + c \cdot \|x\|^2$ is a convex function of $x$?

Let's call $x^*$ the solution to the heuristic, for any particular value of $c$. It looks like for $c=0$, we have $\|x^*\| \ge 1$, and $\|x^*\| \to 0$ as $c \to \infty$. Assuming $x^*$ decreases monotonically and continuously as a function of $c$, then there should exist a single value of $c$ such that $\|x^*\|=1$. Must this $x^*$ be an optimal solution to the original optimization problem?


Not necessarily, but it could be true if $f$ doesn't decrease "too quickly" outside the unit ball. If we're lucky ($f$ doesn't decrease too quickly outside the unit ball), then such a $c$ might exist. If we're unlucky ($f$ decreases extremely quickly outside the unit ball), there are no guarantees.

Since $f$ is concave, the optimal solution $x^*$ to the original optimization problem must lie on the perimeter of the unit circle, i.e., $\|x^*\|=1$. By applying the Karush-Kuhn-Tucker (KKT) conditions to the original optimization problem (i.e., minimize $f(x)$ subject to $\|x\|^2 -1 \le 0$), we find that there exists $\mu>0$ such that $\|x^*\|=1$ and $\nabla f(x^*) = -2\mu \cdot x^*$.

Now set $c=\mu$ and let $g(x) = f(x) + c \cdot \|x\|^2$. Note that

$$\nabla g(x) = \nabla f(x) + 2c \cdot x = \nabla f(x) + 2\mu \cdot x.$$

By the above, we have

$$\nabla g(x^*) = 0.$$

Thus, $x^*$ is a candidate to be a local minimum for the modified optimization problem, for this value of $c$. However, even if it is a local minimum, it might or might not be a global minimum, depending on how quickly $f$ decreases outside the unit ball. If $f$ decreases extremely rapidly outside the unit ball, for the value of $c$ chosen above we might find that $g$ attains its global minimum on the perimeter of the square $[-1,1]^d$, and for other values of $c$, the global minimum of $g$ does not coincide with $x^*$ -- so the condition fails.

  • $\begingroup$ Can you explain why , $x^*$is a local minimum for the modified optimization problem? $\endgroup$ – Red shoes May 16 '17 at 6:34
  • $\begingroup$ @nonlinearthought, Thanks for asking. It's in the previous sentence. $\nabla g(x^*) = 0$, which means that $x^*$ is a local minimum for the function $g$. $g$ is the objective function in the moddified optimization problem. $\endgroup$ – D.W. May 16 '17 at 14:57
  • $\begingroup$ I am sorry, I still cant get why $\nabla g(x^*) = 0$ implies local minimality ! This is a necessary condition, not sufficient for local minimum point. $\endgroup$ – Red shoes May 16 '17 at 18:43
  • $\begingroup$ @nonlinearthought, you are right. Good point. Thank you for the correction. I've edited the answer based on this (though I'm not sure if it has any value after the edits). If you have any thoughts about finding a better answer, they'd be very welcome! $\endgroup$ – D.W. May 16 '17 at 20:18

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