Algorithms & Complexity Seminar, MIT : 2018-19

Organizers: Akshay Degwekar (mathrm{}), Pritish Kamath (mathrm{}), Govind Ramnarayan (mathrm{})

The Algorithms & Complexity Seminar for the 2018-19 year will usually (unless otherwise stated) meet on Wednesdays 4pm-5pm in 32-G575 (Theory Lab on the 5th floor of the Stata Center). The style and format of these meetings are variable. Please feel free to contact the organizers to find out more details. To receive announcements of upcoming talks, subscribe to the mailing list by either visiting the mailman page or send an empty email to

Upcoming Talks

  • Wednesday, October 24, 2018: Nima Anari (Stanford).
    Topic. Log-Concave Polynomials and Matroids: Algorithms and Combinatorics
    Abstract. I will discuss an analytic property of multivariate polynomials, which we call complete log-concavity, and its surprising uses to attack problems in combinatorics, and algorithmic tasks such as sampling, counting, and inference on discrete distributions. This property defines a large class of discrete distributions that should be thought of as the discrete analog of the well-studied continuous log-concave distributions. Examples of distributions satisfying this property include uniform distributions over bases or independent sets of matroids, determinantal point processes and certain powers of them, the random cluster model and potts model for some regimes of parameters, and several other generalizations.

    I will discuss a recipe for verifying this property and then give an application in which we resolve a combinatorial conjecture of Mason on the ultra-log-concavity of the number of independent sets of varying sizes in matroids. Then I’ll discuss connections to random sampling.

    Based on joint work with Kuikui Liu, Shayan Oveis Gharan, and Cynthia Vinzant.
  • Wednesday, October 31, 2018: Yan Gu (CMU).
    Topic. Write-efficient algorithms
    Abstract. The future of main memory appears to lie in the direction of new non-volatile memory technologies that provide strong capacity-to-performance ratios, but have write operations that are much more expensive than reads regarding energy, bandwidth, and latency. Such property of asymmetry in read and write costs poses the desire of "write-efficient algorithms" that use much fewer writes compared to the classic approaches.

    This talk introduces the computational models we used to capture such asymmetry in algorithm design, and then briefly reviews existing results of the lower bounds on the asymmetric models, as well as a list of new write-efficient algorithms. As an example of designing write-efficient algorithms, a new parallel algorithm for planar Delaunay triangulation will be introduced, which achieves optimal numbers of writes and arithmetic operations, as well as a poly-logarithmic parallel depth. Finally, a list of open problems will be discussed that can be interesting for potential future work.
  • Wednesday, November 7, 2018: Seth Neel (U. Penn). [Room: 32-G882]
    Topic. How to Use Heuristics for Differential Privacy
    Abstract. In this paper, we develop theory for using heuristics to solve computationally hard problems in differential privacy. Heuristic approaches have enjoyed tremendous success in machine learning, in which performance can be empirically evaluated. However, privacy guarantees cannot be evaluated empirically, and must be proven — without making heuristic assumptions. We show that learning problems over broad classes of functions — those that have universal identification sequences — can be solved privately, assuming the existence of a non-private oracle for solving the same problem. Our generic algorithm yields a privacy guarantee that only holds if the oracle succeeds. We then give a reduction which applies to a class of heuristics, which we call certifiable, which allows us to give a worst-case privacy guarantee that holds even when the oracle might fail in adversarial ways. Finally, we consider classes of functions for which both they and their dual classes have universal identification sequences. This includes most classes of simple boolean functions studied in the PAC learning literature, including halfspaces, conjunctions, disjunctions, and parities. We show that there is an efficient algorithm for privately constructing synthetic data for any such class, given a non-private learning oracle.
  • Wednesday, November 14, 2018: Parikshit Gopalan (VMware Research). [Time: 3-4pm]
    Topic. TBA
    Abstract. TBA
  • Wednesday, November 21, 2018: Jonathan Mosheiff (Hebrew University).
    Topic. On the weight distribution of random binary linear codes
    Abstract. A random (binary) linear code is a dimension $\lambda n$ ($0<\lambda<1$) linear subspace of the binary $n$-dimensional hypercube, chosen uniformly from among all such subspaces. Such codes play an important role in the theory of error correcting codes, since they achieve the best known rate vs. distance trade-off, i.e., the Gilbert-Varshamov lower bound. Under a random errors regime, the problem of decoding these codes is known as Learning Parity with Noise, and has many cryptographic applications. This work is motivated by the contrast between the importance of random linear codes and how little we know about them.

    Much of the interesting information about a code $C$ is captured by its weight distribution. This is the vector $(w_0,w_1, \ldots,w_n)$ where $w_i$ counts the elements of $C$ with Hamming weight $i$. In this work we study the weight distribution of random linear codes. In our main result we compute the moments of the random variable $w_{\gamma \cdot n}$, where $0 < \gamma < 1$ is a fixed constant and $n$ goes to infinity.

    This is joint work with Nati Linial.
  • Wednesday, December 5, 2018: Peter Manohar (UC Berkeley).
    Topic. Testing Linearity against Non-Signaling Strategies
    Abstract. Non-signaling strategies are collections of distributions with certain non-local correlations. In this talk, we discuss the problem of linearity testing (Blum, Luby, and Rubinfeld; JCSS 1993) against non-signaling strategies. We use Fourier analytic techniques to prove that any non-signaling strategy that passes the linearity test with high probability must be close to a quasi-distribution over linear functions. Quasi-distributions generalize the notion of probability distributions over functions by allowing negative probabilities, while at the same time requiring that “local views” follow standard distributions (with non-negative probabilities).

    Based on joint work with Alessandro Chiesa (UC Berkeley) and Igor Shinkar (Simon Fraser University).

Past Talks

  • Wednesday, September 12, 2018: Anshumali Shrivastava (Rice University). [Time: 2.30-3.30pm]
    Topic. Hashing Algorithms for Extreme Scale Machine Learning.
    Abstract. In this talk, I will discuss some of my recent and surprising findings on the use of hashing algorithms for large-scale estimations. Locality Sensitive Hashing (LSH) is a hugely popular algorithm for sub-linear near neighbor search. However, it turns out that fundamentally LSH is a constant time (amortized) adaptive sampler from which efficient near-neighbor search is one of the many possibilities. Our observation adds another feather in the cap for LSH. LSH offers a unique capability to do smart sampling and statistical estimations at the cost of few hash lookups. Our observation bridges data structures (probabilistic hash tables) with efficient unbiased statistical estimations. I will demonstrate how this dynamic and efficient sampling beak the computational barriers in adaptive estimations where, for the first time, it is possible that we pay roughly the cost of uniform sampling but get the benefits of adaptive sampling. We will demonstrate the power of one simple idea for three favorite problems 1) Partition function estimation for large NLP models such as word2vec, 2) Adaptive Gradient Estimations for efficient SGD and 3) Sub-Linear Deep Learning with Huge Parameter Space.

    In the end, if time permits, we will switch to memory cost show a simple hashing algorithm that can shrink memory requirements associated with classification problems exponentially! Using our algorithms, we can train 100,000 classes with 400,000 features, on a single Titan X while only needing 5% or less memory required to store all the weights. Running a simple logistic regression on this data, the model size of 320GB is unavoidable.

    Bio: Anshumali Shrivastava is an assistant professor in the computer science department at Rice University. His broad research interests include randomized algorithms for large-scale machine learning. He is a recipient of National Science Foundation (NSF) CAREER Award, a Young Investigator Award from Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR), and machine learning research award from Amazon. His research on hashing inner products has won Best Paper Award at NIPS 2014 while his work on representing graphs got the Best Paper Award at IEEE/ACM ASONAM 2014. Anshumali got his PhD in 2015 from Cornell University.
  • Wednesday, October 3, 2018: Aditi Raghunathan (Stanford).
    Topic. Certified Defenses against Adversarial Examples
    Abstract. While neural networks have achieved high accuracy on standard image classification benchmarks, their accuracy drops to nearly zero in the presence of small adversarial perturbations to test inputs. Defenses based on regularization and adversarial training have been proposed, but often followed by new, stronger attacks that defeat these defenses.

    Can we somehow end this arms race? In this talk, I will present some methods based on convex relaxations (with a focus on semidefinite programming) that output a certificate that for a given network and test input, no attack can force the error to exceed a certain value. I will then discuss how these certification procedures can be incorporated into neural network training to obtain provably robust networks. Finally, I will present some empirical results on the performance of attacks and different certificates on networks trained using different objectives.

    Joint work with Jacob Steinhardt and Percy Liang.
  • Wednesday, October 17, 2018: Dylan Foster (Cornell). [Time: 3-4pm]
    Topic. Online Learning, Probabilistic Inequalities, and the Burkholder Method
    Abstract. At first glance, online learning and martingale inequalities may not appear to be intrinically linked. We will showcase a recently discovered equivalence between existence of algorithms for online learning, martingale inequalities, and special "Burkholder" functions. Using this equivalence as a starting point, we define a notion of a sufficient statistic for online learning and use the Burkholder method---originally used to certify probabilistic martingale inequalities---to develop algorithms that only keep these sufficient statistics in memory. To demonstrate the power of the Burkholder method we introduce new efficient and adaptive algorithms for online learning, including an algorithm for matrix prediction that attains a regret bound corresponding to the variance term found in matrix concentration inequalities.

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