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Optimization beyond a single submodular function

Submodular optimization for ranking, decision trees and diversity

Time: Wed 2023-02-15 13.30

Location: F3, Lindstedtsvägen 26 & 28, Stockholm

Video link:

Language: English

Subject area: Computer Science

Doctoral student: Guangyi Zhang , Teoretisk datalogi, TCS

Opponent: Parinya Chalermsook, Aalto University, Finland

Supervisor: Aristides Gionis, Teoretisk datalogi, TCS; Danupon Na Nongkai, Teoretisk datalogi, TCS

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QC 20221220


Submodular functions characterize mathematically the ubiquitous ``diminishing-returns'’ property. They are widely used to describe core subjects in numerous applications, including economic utility, redundancy in information, spread of influence in social networks, and more. Optimization of submodular functions thus plays a central role in a broad range of applications in data science. However, existing works concentrate largely on optimizing a single submodular function, with a sole focus on succinct subset selection among massive data. Other circumstances have not been fully explored, for example, when there exists interplay between a submodular function and other components.

In this thesis, we study optimization beyond a single (non-decreasing) submodular function in the following three areas.

  • Ranking: Ranking arises naturally in the presence of multiple submodular functions, for instance, when a list of shared resources is sequentially served to satisfy multiple submodular demands with individual budgets. One concrete example is ranking web pages to satisfy multiple user intents with different ``patience.'' We first study this ranking problem under cardinality constraints, and then we consider extensions of the basic setting, including knapsack constraints, streaming settings, and robustness requirements.
  • Decision trees: A tree (or a policy) can be seen as an adaptive generalization of ranking. Popular decision trees for classification, including CART and C4.5, are constructed by recursive greedy splits, guided by some impurity function. These trees are accurate, but may not be easy to understand due to a potentially large tree size. A novel characterization of a decision tree is via adaptive intersection among multiple submodular functions, one for each object to be classified. We discover that this characterization enables one to analyze and control the tree complexity for a large family of impurity functions. As a consequence, we are able to produce accurate and interpretable decision trees with bounded complexity.
  • Diversity: Multi-objective optimization is frequently encountered in reality. One specific important form is a joint optimization of utility and diversity, where utility is often modeled by a submodular function. From the theoretical side, we discuss new techniques for such joint optimization over clustered input; from the practical side, we propose one novel application in learning diverse rule sets, where diversity encourages non-overlapping rules that deliver desirable unambiguous decisions.    

For each of the three areas discussed above, we introduce novel formulations for applications in data science, and devise algorithms that are efficient, easy to implement, and have provable approximation guarantees. In addition to theory, we also highlight their practical potential by presenting empirical performance in selected applications. Our work significantly enhances the modeling capabilities of submodular optimization for novel application domains.