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Contingency-Aware Influence Maximization: A Reinforcement Learning Approach
Haipeng Chen · Wei Qiu · Han-Ching Ou · Bo An · Milind Tambe

The influence maximization (IM) problem aims at finding a subset of seed nodes in a social network that maximize the spread of influence. In this study, we focus on a sub-class of IM problems, where whether the nodes are willing to be the seeds when being invited is uncertain, called \textit{contingency-aware IM}. Such contingency aware IM is critical for applications for non-profit organizations in low resource communities (e.g., spreading awareness of disease prevention). Despite the initial success, a major practical obstacle in promoting the solutions to more communities is the tremendous runtime of the greedy algorithms and the lack of high performance computing (HPC) for the non-profits in the field -- whenever there is a new social network, the non-profits usually do not have the HPCs to recalculate the solutions. Motivated by this and inspired by the line of works that use reinforcement learning (RL) to address combinatorial optimization on graphs, we formalize the problem as a Markov Decision Process (MDP), and use RL to learn an IM policy over historically seen networks, and generalize to unseen networks with negligible runtime at test phase. To fully exploit the properties of our targeted problem, we propose two technical innovations that improve the existing methods, including state-abstraction and theoretically grounded reward shaping. Empirical results show that our method achieves influence as high as the state-of-the-art methods for contingency-aware IM, while having negligible runtime at test phase.

Author Information

Haipeng Chen (Harvard University)
Wei Qiu (Nanyang Technological University)
Han-Ching Ou (Harvard University)
Bo An (Nanyang Technological University)
Milind Tambe (Harvard University)

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