Learning Theory 3

Moderator: Prateek Jain


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Wed 21 July 5:00 - 5:20 PDT

The Limits of Min-Max Optimization Algorithms: Convergence to Spurious Non-Critical Sets

Ya-Ping Hsieh · Panayotis Mertikopoulos · Volkan Cevher

Compared to minimization, the min-max optimization in machine learning applications is considerably more convoluted because of the existence of cycles and similar phenomena. Such oscillatory behaviors are well-understood in the convex-concave regime, and many algorithms are known to overcome them. In this paper, we go beyond this basic setting and characterize the convergence properties of many popular methods in solving non-convex/non-concave problems. In particular, we show that a wide class of state-of-the-art schemes and heuristics may converge with arbitrarily high probability to attractors that are in no way min-max optimal or even stationary. Our work thus points out a potential pitfall among many existing theoretical frameworks, and we corroborate our theoretical claims by explicitly showcasing spurious attractors in simple two-dimensional problems.

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Wed 21 July 5:20 - 5:25 PDT

Theory of Spectral Method for Union of Subspaces-Based Random Geometry Graph

Gen Li · Yuantao Gu

Spectral method is a commonly used scheme to cluster data points lying close to Union of Subspaces, a task known as Subspace Clustering. The typical usage is to construct a Random Geometry Graph first and then apply spectral method to the graph to obtain clustering result. The latter step has been coined the name Spectral Clustering. As far as we know, in spite of the significance of both steps in spectral-method-based Subspace Clustering, all existing theoretical results focus on the first step of constructing the graph, but ignore the final step to correct false connections through spectral clustering. This paper establishes a theory to show the power of this method for the first time, in which we demonstrate the mechanism of spectral clustering by analyzing a simplified algorithm under the widely used semi-random model. Based on this theory, we prove the efficiency of Subspace Clustering in fairly broad conditions. The insights and analysis techniques developed in this paper might also have implications for other random graph problems.

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Wed 21 July 5:25 - 5:30 PDT

Approximating a Distribution Using Weight Queries

Nadav Barak · Sivan Sabato

We consider a novel challenge: approximating a distribution without the ability to randomly sample from that distribution. We study how such an approximation can be obtained using weight queries. Given some data set of examples, a weight query presents one of the examples to an oracle, which returns the probability, according to the target distribution, of observing examples similar to the presented example. This oracle can represent, for instance, counting queries to a database of the target population, or an interface to a search engine which returns the number of results that match a given search.

We propose an interactive algorithm that iteratively selects data set examples and performs corresponding weight queries. The algorithm finds a reweighting of the data set that approximates the weights according to the target distribution, using a limited number of weight queries. We derive an approximation bound on the total variation distance between the reweighting found by the algorithm and the best achievable reweighting. Our algorithm takes inspiration from the UCB approach common in multi-armed bandits problems, and combines it with a new discrepancy estimator and a greedy iterative procedure. In addition to our theoretical guarantees, we demonstrate in experiments the advantages of the proposed algorithm over several baselines. A python implementation of the proposed algorithm and of all the experiments can be found at

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Wed 21 July 5:30 - 5:35 PDT

Estimating $\alpha$-Rank from A Few Entries with Low Rank Matrix Completion

Yali Du · Xue Yan · Xu Chen · Jun Wang · Haifeng Zhang

Multi-agent evaluation aims at the assessment of an agent's strategy on the basis of interaction with others. Typically, existing methods such as $\alpha$-rank and its approximation still require to exhaustively compare all pairs of joint strategies for an accurate ranking, which in practice is computationally expensive. In this paper, we aim to reduce the number of pairwise comparisons in recovering a satisfying ranking for $n$ strategies in two-player meta-games, by exploring the fact that agents with similar skills may achieve similar payoffs against others. Two situations are considered: the first one is when we can obtain the true payoffs; the other one is when we can only access noisy payoff. Based on these formulations, we leverage low-rank matrix completion and design two novel algorithms for noise-free and noisy evaluations respectively. For both of these settings, we theorize that $O(nr \log n)$ ($n$ is the number of agents and $r$ is the rank of the payoff matrix) payoff entries are required to achieve sufficiently well strategy evaluation performance. Empirical results on evaluating the strategies in three synthetic games and twelve real world games demonstrate that strategy evaluation from a few entries can lead to comparable performance to algorithms with full knowledge of the payoff matrix.

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Wed 21 July 5:35 - 5:40 PDT

Revenue-Incentive Tradeoffs in Dynamic Reserve Pricing

Yuan Deng · S├ębastien Lahaie · Vahab Mirrokni · Song Zuo

Online advertisements are primarily sold via repeated auctions with reserve prices. In this paper, we study how to set reserves to boost revenue based on the historical bids of strategic buyers, while controlling the impact of such a policy on the incentive compatibility of the repeated auctions. Adopting an incentive compatibility metric which quantifies the incentives to shade bids, we propose a novel class of reserve pricing policies and provide analytical tradeoffs between their revenue performance and bid-shading incentives. The policies are inspired by the exponential mechanism from the literature on differential privacy, but our study uncovers mechanisms with significantly better revenue-incentive tradeoffs than the exponential mechanism in practice. We further empirically evaluate the tradeoffs on synthetic data as well as real ad auction data from a major ad exchange to verify and support our theoretical findings.

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Wed 21 July 5:40 - 5:45 PDT

Towards the Unification and Robustness of Perturbation and Gradient Based Explanations

Sushant Agarwal · Shahin Jabbari · Chirag Agarwal · Sohini Upadhyay · Steven Wu · Hima Lakkaraju

As machine learning black boxes are increasingly being deployed in critical domains such as healthcare and criminal justice, there has been a growing emphasis on developing techniques for explaining these black boxes in a post hoc manner. In this work, we analyze two popular post hoc interpretation techniques: SmoothGrad which is a gradient based method, and a variant of LIME which is a perturbation based method. More specifically, we derive explicit closed form expressions for the explanations output by these two methods and show that they both converge to the same explanation in expectation, i.e., when the number of perturbed samples used by these methods is large. We then leverage this connection to establish other desirable properties, such as robustness, for these techniques. We also derive finite sample complexity bounds for the number of perturbations required for these methods to converge to their expected explanation. Finally, we empirically validate our theory using extensive experimentation on both synthetic and real-world datasets.

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Wed 21 July 5:45 - 5:50 PDT

Classifying high-dimensional Gaussian mixtures: Where kernel methods fail and neural networks succeed

Maria Refinetti · Sebastian Goldt · FLORENT KRZAKALA · Lenka Zdeborova

A recent series of theoretical works showed that the dynamics of neural networks with a certain initialisation are well-captured by kernel methods. Concurrent empirical work demonstrated that kernel methods can come close to the performance of neural networks on some image classification tasks. These results raise the question of whether neural networks only learn successfully if kernels also learn successfully, despite being the more expressive function class. Here, we show that two-layer neural networks with only a few neurons achieve near-optimal performance on high-dimensional Gaussian mixture classification while lazy training approaches such as random features and kernel methods do not. Our analysis is based on the derivation of a set of ordinary differential equations that exactly track the dynamics of the network and thus allow to extract the asymptotic performance of the network as a function of regularisation or signal-to-noise ratio. We also show how over-parametrising the neural network leads to faster convergence, but does not improve its final performance.

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Wed 21 July 5:50 - 5:55 PDT