the MAD Seminar

The MaD seminar features leading specialists at the interface of Applied Mathematics, Statistics and Machine Learning. It is partly supported by the Moore-Sloan Data Science Environment at NYU.

We have resumed in-person MaD seminars. The seminars are also recorded. Links to the videos are available below.

Room: Auditorium Hall 150, Center for Data Science, NYU, 60 5th ave.

Time: 2:00pm-3:00pm

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Schedule with Confirmed Speakers

Date Speaker Title Recording
September 15 Jason Altschuler (NYU) Privacy of Noisy SGD
September 28 special date Nati Srebro (TTIC) Learning by Overfitting: A Statistical Learning View on Benign Overfitting
October 6 Boris Hanin (Princeton) Exact Solutions to Bayesian Interpolation with Deep Linear Networks
October 13 Quentin Berthet (Google) Perturbed optimizers and an Accelerated Frank-Wolfe Algorithm
October 20 Shipra Agrawal (Columbia) Dynamic Pricing and Learning under the Bass Model Link Passcode: yG%*7ekY
October 27 Jack Xin (UCI) DeepParticle: learning multiscale PDEs by minimizing Wasserstein distance on data generated from interacting particle methods
November 3 Anna Gilbert (Yale) Metric representations: Algorithms and Geometry
November 9 special date and time 4pm Pablo Parrilo (MIT) Shortest Paths in Graphs of Convex Sets, and their Applications
November 10 Arthur Jacot (NYU) Implicit Bias of Large Depth Networks: the Bottleneck Rank
November 11 special date and time 11am Theodor Misiakiewicz (Stanford) Learning sparse functions with SGD on neural networks in high-dimension
November 17 Bharath Sriperumbudur (Penn State) Regularized Stein Variational Gradient Flow
December 1 Soledad Villar (Johns Hopkins University) Random graph models and graph neural networks
December 8 Qi Lei (NYU) Reconstructing Training Data from Model Gradient, Provably

Schedule Spring 2022

Schedule Fall 2021

Schedule Spring 2020

Schedule Fall 2019

Schedule Spring 2019

Schedule Fall 2018

Schedule Spring 2018

Schedule Fall 2017

Schedule Spring 2017


Jason Altschuler: Privacy of Noisy SGD

A central issue in machine learning is how to train models on sensitive user data. Industry has widely adopted a simple algorithm: Stochastic Gradient Descent with noise (aka Stochastic Gradient Langevin Dynamics). However, foundational theoretical questions about this algorithm’s privacy loss remain open—even in the seemingly simple setting of smooth convex losses over a bounded domain. Our main result resolves these questions: for a large range of parameters, we characterize the differential privacy up to a constant factor. This result reveals that all previous analyses for this setting have the wrong qualitative behavior. Specifically, while previous privacy analyses increase ad infinitum in the number of iterations, we show that after a small burn-in period, running SGD longer leaks no further privacy.

In this talk, I will describe this result and our analysis techniques—which depart completely from previous approaches based on fast mixing, instead using techniques based on optimal transport.

Joint work with Kunal Talwar

Qi Lei: Optimal Gradient-based Algorithms for Non-concave Bandit Optimization

Bandit problems with linear or concave reward have been extensively studied, but relatively few works have studied bandits with non-concave reward. In this talk, we consider a large family of bandit problems where the unknown underlying reward function is non-concave, including the low-rank generalized linear bandit problems and two-layer neural network with polynomial activation bandit problem. For the low-rank generalized linear bandit problem, we provide a minimax-optimal algorithm in the dimension, refuting both conjectures in (Lu et al. 2021) and (Jun et al. 2019). Our algorithms are based on a unified zeroth-order optimization paradigm that applies in great generality and attains optimal rates in several structured polynomial settings (in the dimension). We further demonstrate the applicability of our algorithms in RL in the generative model setting, resulting in improved sample complexity over prior approaches. Finally, we show that the standard optimistic algorithms (e.g., UCB) are sub-optimal by dimension factors. In the neural net setting (with polynomial activation functions) with noiseless reward, we provide a bandit algorithm with sample complexity equal to the intrinsic algebraic dimension. Again, we show that optimistic approaches have worse sample complexity, polynomial in the extrinsic dimension (which could be exponentially worse in the polynomial degree).

Nati Srebro: Learning by Overfitting: A Statistical Learning view of Benign Overfitting

The classic view of statistical learning tells us that we should balance model fit with model complexity instead of insisting on training error that’s much lower than what we can expect to generalize to, or even lower than the noise level or Bayes error. And that this balance, and control on model complexity ensures good generalization. But in recent years we have seen that in many situations we can learn and generalize without such a balance, and despite (over?) fitting the training set well below the noise level. This has caused us to rethink the basic principles underlying statistical learning theory. In this talk I will discuss how much of our theory we can salvage and how much of it needs to be revised, focusing on the role of uniform convergence in understanding interpolation learning.

Based on joint work with Lijia Zhou, Fred Koehler, Danica Sutherland and Pragya Sur

Boris Hanin: Exact Solutions to Bayesian Interpolation with Deep Linear Networks

This talk concerns Bayesian interpolation with an overparameterized linear neural networks (products of matrices) with quadratic log-likelihood and Gaussian prior on model parameters. I will present ongoing work, joint with Alexander Zlokapa (MIT Physics), in which we obtain an exact representation - in terms of special functions known as Meijer G-functions - for the posterior distribution of the predictor which holds for any fixed choice of input dimension, layer widths, depth, and number of training datapoints. Analyzing these expressions reveals that at finite depth, in the limit of infinite width and number of datapoints, networks are never Bayes optimal. However, in the triple scaling limit of large number of datapoint, width, and depththe posterior becomes independent of the prior and is the same as the Bayes optimal predictor at finite depth. In particular, at infinite depth, the prior does not need to be fine-tuned to achieve optimality, either in the Bayesian or the L_2-sense.

Quentin Berthet: Perturbed optimizers and an Accelerated Frank-Wolfe Algorithm

We propose a systematic method to transform optimizers into operations that are differentiable and never locally constant. This expands the scope of learning problems that can be solved in an end-to-end fashion. Our approach relies on stochastically perturbed optimizers, and can be used readily together with existing solvers. Their derivatives can be evaluated efficiently, and smoothness tuned via the chosen noise amplitude. We also show how this framework can be connected to a family of losses developed in structured prediction, and give theoretical guarantees for their use in learning tasks.

We show applications to the problem of minimizing the sum of two convex functions. In particular, we show that this algorithmic setup naturally leads to a variant of Frank-Wolfe achieving acceleration under parallelization. More precisely, when minimizing a smooth convex function on a bounded domain, we show that one can achieve an ε primal-dual gap (in expectation) in O(1/√ε) iterations, by only accessing gradients of the original function and a linear maximization oracle with O(1/√ε) computing units in parallel. We illustrate this fast convergence on synthetic numerical experiments.

Shipra Agrawal: Dynamic Pricing and Learning under the Bass Model

In this talk, I will discuss a novel formulation of the dynamic pricing and demand learning problem, where the evolution of demand in response to posted prices is governed by a stochastic variant of the popular Bass model with parameters (α, β) that are linked to the so-called “innovation” and “imitation” effects. Unlike the more commonly used i.i.d. demand models, in this model the price posted not only affects the demand and the revenue in the current round but also the evolution of demand, and hence the fraction of market potential that can be captured, in future rounds. Finding a revenue-maximizing dynamic pricing policy in this model is non-trivial even when model parameters are known, and requires solving for the optimal non-stationary policy of a continuous-time, continuous-state MDP. In this work, we consider the problem of dynamic pricing in conjunction with learning the model parameters, with the objective of optimizing the cumulative revenues over a given selling horizon. Our main contribution is an algorithm with a regret guarantee of O (m^2/3), where m is the mnemonic for the (known) market size. Moreover, we show that no algorithm can incur smaller order of loss by deriving a matching lower bound. We observe that in this problem the market size m, and not the time horizon T, is the fundamental driver of the complexity; our lower bound in fact indicates that for any fixed α,β, most non-trivial instances of the problem have constant T and large m. This insight sets the problem setting considered here uniquely apart from the MAB-type formulations typically considered in the learning-to-price literature.

Joint work with Steven Yin (Columbia) and Assaf Zeevi (Columbia)

Jack Xin: DeepParticle: learning multiscale PDEs by minimizing Wasserstein distance on data generated from interacting particle methods

Multiscale time dependent partial differential equations (PDE) are challenging to compute by traditional mesh based methods especially when their solutions develop large gradients or concentrations at unknown locations. Particle methods, based on microscopic aspects of the PDEs, are mesh free and self-adaptive, yet still expensive when a long time or a resolved computation is necessary.

We present DeepParticle, an integrated deep learning, optimal transport (OT), and interacting particle (IP) approach, to speed up generation and prediction of PDE dynamics of interest through two case studies. One is on large time front speeds of Fisher-Kolmogorov-Petrovsky-Piskunov equation (FKPP) modeling flames in fluid flows with chaotic streamlines; the other is on a Keller-Segel (KS) chemotaxis system modeling bacteria evolution in fluid flows in the presence of a chemical attractant.

Analysis of FKPP reduces the problem to a computation of principal eigenvalue of an advection-diffusion operator. A normalized Feynman-Kac representation makes possible a genetic IP algorithm that evolves the initial uniform particle distribution to a large time invariant measure from which to extract the front speeds. The invariant measure is parameterized by a physical parameter (the Peclet number). We train a light weight deep neural network with local and global skip connections to learn this family of invariant measures. The training data come from affordable IP computation in three dimensions at a few sample Peclet numbers. The training objective being minimized is a discrete Wasserstein distance in OT theory. The trained network predicts a more concentrated invariant measure at a larger Peclet number and also serves as a warm start to accelerate IP computation.

The KS is formulated as a McKean-Vlasov equation (macroscopic limit) of a stochastic IP system. The DeepParticle framework extends and learns to generate finite time bacterial aggregation patterns in three dimensional laminar and chaotic flows.

Joint work with Zhongjian Wang (University of Chicago) and Zhiwen Zhang (University of Hong Kong).

Anna Gilbert: Metric representations: Algorithms and Geometry

Given a set of distances amongst points, determining what metric representation is most “consistent” with the input distances or the metric that best captures the relevant geometric features of the data is a key step in many machine learning algorithms. In this talk, we discuss a number of variants of this problem, from convex optimization problems with metric constraints to sparse metric repair.

Pablo Parrilo: Shortest Paths in Graphs of Convex Sets, and their Applications

Given a graph, the shortest-path problem requires finding a sequence of edges of minimum cost connecting a source vertex to a target vertex. In this talk we introduce a generalization of this classical problem in which the position of each vertex in the graph is a continuous decision variable, constrained to lie in a corresponding convex set, and the cost of an edge is a convex function of the positions of the vertices it connects. Problems of this form arise naturally in motion planning of autonomous vehicles, robot navigation, and even optimal control of hybrid dynamical systems. The price for such a wide applicability is the complexity of this problem, which is easily seen to be NP-hard. We discuss this novel formulation along with different solution approaches, including a strong mixed-integer convex formulation based on perspective functions. This formulation has a very tight convex relaxation and makes it possible to efficiently find globally-optimal paths in large graphs and in high-dimensional spaces.

Based on joint work with Tobia Marcucci, Jack Umenberger and Russ Tedrake (MIT).

Arthur Jacot (NYU) Implicit Bias of Large Depth Networks: the Bottleneck Rank

Several neural network models are known to be biased towards some notion of sparsity: minimizing rank in linear networks or minimizing the effective number of neurons in the hidden layer of a shallow neural network. I will argue that the correct notion of sparsity for large depth DNNs is the so-called Bottleneck (BN) rank of a (piecewise linear) function $f$, which is the smallest integer $k$ such that there is a factorization $f=g\circ h$ with inner dimension $k$.

First, the representation cost of DNNs converges as the depth goes to infinity to the BN rank over a large family of functions. Second, for sufficiently large depths, the global minima of the $L_{2}$-regularized loss of DNNs are approximately BN-rank 1, in the sense that there is a hidden layer whose representation of the data is approximately one dimensional. When fitting a true function with BN-rank $k$, the global minimizers recover the true rank if $k=1$. If $k>1$ results suggest that the true rank is recovered for intermediate depths.

BN-rank recovery implies that autoencoders are naturally denoising, and that the class boundaries of a DNN classifier have certain topological properties (such as the absence of tripoints when $k=1$). Both of these phenomena are observed empirically in large depths networks.

Theodor Misiakiewicz: Learning sparse functions with SGD on neural networks in high-dimension

Abstract: Major research activity has recently been devoted to understanding what function classes can be learned by SGD on neural networks. Two extreme parametrizations are relatively well understood: neural networks in the linear regime, and neural networks with no structural constraints. However, for the main parametrization of interest —non-linear but regular networks— no general characterization has yet been achieved. Such networks are known to go beyond linear learning and seem to exploit structure of the target functions in order to efficiently build their features.

In this talk, we take a step in this direction by considering learning sparse functions (a function that depends on a latent low-dimensional subspace) with SGD on two-layer neural networks. We identify a structural property —small-leap staircase— which allows for efficient learning in this setting, and provide evidence for its necessity and sufficiency. For small-leap staircases, SGD sequentially learns the sparse support, using low-degree monomials to reach higher-degree monomials. We characterize tightly the number of SGD steps to align to each new monomial, and show how a saddle-to-saddle dynamics emerges naturally in this setting. In particular, this work illustrates how non-linear training of neural networks can perform hierarchical learning and vastly outperform fixed-feature methods.

This talk is based on joint works with Emmanuel Abbe, Enric Boix-Adsera, Hong Hu and Yue M. Lu.

Bharath Sriperumbudur: Regularized Stein Variational Gradient Flow

The Stein Variational Gradient Descent (SVGD) algorithm is a deterministic particle method for sampling. However, a mean-field analysis reveals that the gradient flow corresponding to the SVGD algorithm (i.e., the Stein Variational Gradient Flow) only provides a constant-order approximation to the Wasserstein Gradient Flow corresponding to the KL-divergence minimization. In this talk, we propose the Regularized Stein Variational Gradient Flow which interpolates between the Stein Variational Gradient Flow and the Wasserstein Gradient Flow. We establish various theoretical properties of the  Regularized Stein Variational Gradient Flow (and its time-discretization) including convergence to equilibrium, existence and uniqueness of weak solutions, and stability of the solutions. We provide preliminary numerical evidence of the improved performance offered by the regularization.

Joint work with Ye He (UC Davis), Krishnakumar Balasubramanian (UC Davis) and Jianfeng Lu (Duke)

Soledad Villar: Random graph models and graph neural networks

We consider learning problems on different random graph models. For some of these problems, such as community detection in dense graphs, spectral methods provide consistent estimators. However, their performance deteriorates as the graphs become sparser. In this talk we consider a random graph model that can produce graphs at different levels of sparsity, and we show that graph neural networks can outperform spectral methods on sparse graphs. In particular we introduce a graph neural network that can interpolate between spectral methods and message passing, avoiding the so-called over-smoothing phenomenon.

Qi Lei: Reconstructing Training Data from Model Gradient, Provably

Understanding when and how much a model gradient leaks information about the training sample is an important question in privacy. In this talk, we present a surprising result: even without training or memorizing the data, we can fully reconstruct the training samples from a single gradient query at a randomly chosen parameter value. We prove the identifiability of the training data under mild conditions: with shallow or deep neural networks and a wide range of activation functions. We also present a statistically and computationally efficient algorithm based on low-rank tensor decomposition to reconstruct the training data. As a provable attack that reveals sensitive training data, our findings suggest potential severe threats to privacy, especially in federated learning.