Many optimization algorithms converge to stationary points. When the underlying problem is nonconvex, they may get trapped at local minimizers and occasionally stagnate near saddle points. We propose the Run-and-Inspect Method, which adds an "inspect" phase to existing algorithms that helps escape from non-global stationary points. The inspection samples a set of points in a radius $R$ around the current point. When a sample point yields a sufficient decrease in the objective, we move there and resume an existing algorithm. If no sufficient decrease is found, the current point is called an approximate $R$-local minimizer. We show that an $R$-local minimizer is globally optimal, up to a specific error depending on $R$, if the objective function can be implicitly decomposed into a smooth convex function plus a restricted function that is possibly nonconvex, nonsmooth. For high-dimensional problems, we introduce blockwise inspections to overcome the curse of dimensionality while still maintaining optimality bounds up to a factor equal to the number of blocks. Our method performs well on a set of artificial and realistic nonconvex problems by coupling with gradient descent, coordinate descent, EM, and prox-linear algorithms.
UCLA CAM 17-67