Oral 6 Track 1: Theory



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Wed 3 May 6:00 - 6:10 PDT

In-Person Oral presentation / top 5% paper
Near-optimal Coresets for Robust Clustering

Lingxiao Huang · Shaofeng Jiang · Jianing Lou · Xuan Wu

We consider robust clustering problems in $\mathbb{R}^d$, specifically $k$-clustering problems (e.g., $k$-Median and $k$-Means) with $m$ \emph{outliers}, where the cost for a given center set $C \subset \mathbb{R}^d$ aggregates the distances from $C$ to all but the furthest $m$ data points, instead of all points as in classical clustering. We focus on the $\epsilon$-coreset for robust clustering, a small proxy of the dataset that preserves the clustering cost within $\epsilon$-relative error for all center sets. Our main result is an $\epsilon$-coreset of size $O(m + \mathrm{poly}(k \epsilon^{-1}))$ that can be constructed in near-linear time. This significantly improves previous results, which either suffers an exponential dependence on $(m + k)$ [Feldman and Schulman, SODA'12], or has a weaker bi-criteria guarantee [Huang et al., FOCS'18]. Furthermore, we show this dependence in $m$ is nearly-optimal, and the fact that it is isolated from other factors may be crucial for dealing with large number of outliers. We construct our coresets by adapting to the outlier setting a recent framework [Braverman et al., FOCS'22] which was designed for capacity-constrained clustering, overcoming a new challenge that the participating terms in the cost, particularly the excluded $m$ outlier points, are dependent on the center set $C$. We validate our coresets on various datasets, and we observe a superior size-accuracy tradeoff compared with popular baselines including uniform sampling and sensitivity sampling. We also achieve a significant speedup of existing approximation algorithms for robust clustering using our coresets.

Wed 3 May 6:10 - 6:20 PDT

In-Person Oral presentation / top 5% paper
Efficiently Computing Nash Equilibria in Adversarial Team Markov Games

Fivos Kalogiannis · Ioannis Anagnostides · Ioannis Panageas · Emmanouil-Vasileios Vlatakis-Gkaragkounis · Vaggos Chatziafratis · Stelios Stavroulakis

Computing Nash equilibrium policies is a central problem in multi-agent reinforcement learning that has received extensive attention both in theory and in practice. However, in light of computational intractability barriers in general-sum games, provable guarantees have been thus far either limited to fully competitive or cooperative scenarios or impose strong assumptions that are difficult to meet in most practical applications. In this work, we depart from those prior results by investigating infinite-horizon \emph{adversarial team Markov games}, a natural and well-motivated class of games in which a team of identically-interested players---in the absence of any explicit coordination or communication---is competing against an adversarial player. This setting allows for a unifying treatment of zero-sum Markov games and Markov potential games, and serves as a step to model more realistic strategic interactions that feature both competing and cooperative interests. Our main contribution is the first algorithm for computing stationary $\epsilon$-approximate Nash equilibria in adversarial team Markov games with computational complexity that is polynomial in all the natural parameters of the game, as well as $1/\epsilon$. The proposed algorithm is based on performing independent policy gradient steps for each player in the team, in tandem with best responses from the side of the adversary; in turn, the policy for the adversary is then obtained by solving a carefully constructed linear program. Our analysis leverages non-standard techniques to establish the KKT optimality conditions for a nonlinear program with nonconvex constraints, thereby leading to a natural interpretation of the induced Lagrange multipliers.

Wed 3 May 6:20 - 6:30 PDT

In-Person Oral presentation / top 5% paper
Honorable Mention
Towards Understanding Ensemble, Knowledge Distillation and Self-Distillation in Deep Learning

Zeyuan Allen-Zhu · Yuanzhi Li

We formally study how \emph{ensemble} of deep learning models can improve test accuracy, and how the superior performance of ensemble can be distilled into a single model using \emph{knowledge distillation}. We consider the challenging case where the ensemble is simply an average of the outputs of a few independently trained neural networks with the \emph{same} architecture, trained using the \emph{same} algorithm on the \emph{same} data set, and they only differ by the random seeds used in the initialization.We show that ensemble/knowledge distillation in \emph{deep learning} works very differently from traditional learning theory (such as boosting or NTKs). We develop a theory showing that when data has a structure we refer to as multi-view'', then ensemble of independently trained neural networks can provably improve test accuracy, and such superior test accuracy can also be provably distilled into a single model. Our result sheds light on how ensemble works in deep learning in a way that is completely different from traditional theorems, and how thedark knowledge'' is hidden in the outputs of the ensemble and can be used in distillation.

Wed 3 May 6:30 - 6:40 PDT

In-Person Oral presentation / top 5% paper
Statistical Efficiency of Score Matching: The View from Isoperimetry

Frederic Koehler · Alexander Heckett · Andrej Risteski

Deep generative models parametrized up to a normalizing constant (e.g. energy-based models) are difficult to train by maximizing the likelihood of the data because the likelihood and/or gradients thereof cannot be explicitly or efficiently written down. Score matching is a training method, whereby instead of fitting the likelihood $\log p(x)$ for the training data, we instead fit the score function $\nabla_x \log p(x)$ --- obviating the need to evaluate the partition function. Though this estimator is known to be consistent, its unclear whether (and when) its statistical efficiency is comparable to that of maximum likelihood --- which is known to be (asymptotically) optimal. We initiate this line of inquiry in this paper, and show a tight connection between statistical efficiency of score matching and the isoperimetric properties of the distribution being estimated --- i.e. the Poincar\'e, log-Sobolev and isoperimetric constant --- quantities which govern the mixing time of Markov processes like Langevin dynamics. Roughly, we show that the score matching estimator is statistically comparable to the maximum likelihood when the distribution has a small isoperimetric constant. Conversely, if the distribution has a large isoperimetric constant --- even for simple families of distributions like exponential families with rich enough sufficient statistics --- score matching will be substantially less efficient than maximum likelihood. We suitably formalize these results both in the finite sample regime, and in the asymptotic regime. Finally, we identify a direct parallel in the discrete setting, where we connect the statistical properties of pseudolikelihood estimation with approximate tensorization of entropy and the Glauber dynamics.

Wed 3 May 6:40 - 6:50 PDT

In-Person Oral presentation / top 25% paper
Subquadratic Algorithms for Kernel Matrices via Kernel Density Estimation

Ainesh Bakshi · Piotr Indyk · Praneeth Kacham · Sandeep Silwal · Samson Zhou

Kernel matrices, as well as weighted graphs represented by them, are ubiquitous objects in machine learning, statistics and other related fields. The main drawback of using kernel methods (learning and inference using kernel matrices) is efficiency -- given $n$ input points, most kernel-based algorithms need to materialize the full $n \times n$ kernel matrix before performing any subsequent computation, thus incurring $\Omega(n^2)$ runtime. Breaking this quadratic barrier for various problems has therefore, been a subject of extensive research efforts. We break the quadratic barrier and obtain \emph{subquadratic} time algorithms for several fundamental linear-algebraic and graph processing primitives, including approximating the top eigenvalue and eigenvector, spectral sparsification, solving linear systems, local clustering, low-rank approximation, arboricity estimation and counting weighted triangles. We build on the recently developed Kernel Density Estimation framework, which (after preprocessing in time subquadratic in $n$) can return estimates of row/column sums of the kernel matrix. In particular, we develop efficient reductions from \emph{weighted vertex} and \emph{weighted edge sampling} on kernel graphs, \emph{simulating random walks} on kernel graphs, and \emph{importance sampling} on matrices to Kernel Density Estimation and show that we can generate samples from these distributions in \emph{sublinear} (in the support of the distribution) time. Our reductions are the central ingredient in each of our applications and we believe they may be of independent interest. We empirically demonstrate the efficacy of our algorithms on low-rank approximation (LRA) and spectral sparsification, where we observe a $\textbf{9x}$ decrease in the number of kernel evaluations over baselines for LRA and a $\textbf{41x}$ reduction in the graph size for spectral sparsification.

Wed 3 May 6:50 - 7:00 PDT

In-Person Oral presentation / top 25% paper
Depth Separation with Multilayer Mean-Field Networks

Yunwei Ren · Mo Zhou · Rong Ge

Depth separation—why a deeper network is more powerful than a shallow one—has been a major problem in deep learning theory. Previous results often focus on representation power, for example, Safran et al. (2019) constructed a function that is easy to approximate using a 3-layer network but not approximable by any 2-layer network. In this paper, we show that this separation is in fact algorithmic: one can learn the function constructed by Safran et al. (2019) using an overparametrized network with polynomially many neurons efficiently. Our result relies on a new way of extending the mean-field limit to multilayer networks, and a decomposition of loss that factors out the error introduced by the discretization of infinite-width mean-field networks.

Wed 3 May 7:00 - 7:10 PDT

In-Person Oral presentation / top 25% paper
Learning with Stochastic Orders

Carles Domingo i Enrich · Yair Schiff · Youssef Mroueh

Learning high-dimensional distributions is often done with explicit likelihood modeling or implicit modeling via minimizing integral probability metrics (IPMs). In this paper, we expand this learning paradigm to stochastic orders, namely, the convex or Choquet order between probability measures. Towards this end, exploiting the relation between convex orders and optimal transport, we introduce the Choquet-Toland distance between probability measures, that can be used as a drop-in replacement for IPMs. We also introduce the Variational Dominance Criterion (VDC) to learn probability measures with dominance constraints, that encode the desired stochastic order between the learned measure and a known baseline. We analyze both quantities and show that they suffer from the curse of dimensionality and propose surrogates via input convex maxout networks (ICMNs), that enjoy parametric rates. We provide a min-max framework for learning with stochastic orders and validate it experimentally on synthetic and high-dimensional image generation, with promising results. Finally, our ICMNs class of convex functions and its derived Rademacher Complexity are of independent interest beyond their application in convex orders. Code to reproduce experimental results is available at

Wed 3 May 7:10 - 7:20 PDT

In-Person Oral presentation / top 25% paper
Nonlinear Reconstruction for Operator Learning of PDEs with Discontinuities

Samuel Lanthaler · Roberto Molinaro · Patrik Hadorn · Siddhartha Mishra

Discontinuous solutions arise in a large class of hyperbolic and advection-dominated PDEs. This paper investigates, both theoretically and empirically, the operator learning of PDEs with discontinuous solutions. We rigorously prove, in terms of lower approximation bounds, that methods which entail a linear reconstruction step (e.g. DeepONets or PCA-Nets) fail to efficiently approximate the solution operator of such PDEs. In contrast, we show that certain methods employing a non-linear reconstruction mechanism can overcome these fundamental lower bounds and approximate the underlying operator efficiently. The latter class includes Fourier Neural Operators and a novel extension of DeepONets termed shift-DeepONets. Our theoretical findings are confirmed by empirical results for advection equations, inviscid Burgers’ equation and the compressible Euler equations of gas dynamics.