On structured and distributed learning




Tandon, Rashish

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With the growth in size and complexity of data, methods exploiting low-dimensional structure, as well as distributed methods, have been playing an ever important role in machine learning. These approaches offer a natural choice to alleviate the computational burden, albeit typically at a statistical trade-off. In this thesis, we show that a careful utilization of structure of a problem, or bottlenecks of a distributed system, can also provide a statistical advantage in such settings. We do this from the purview of the following three problems: 1. Learning Graphical models with a few hubs: Graphical models are a popular tool to represent multivariate distributions. The task of learning a graphical model entails estimating the graph of conditional dependencies between variables. Existing approaches to learn graphical models require a number of samples polynomial in the maximum degree of the true graph, which can be large even if there are a few high-degree nodes. In this part of the thesis, we propose an estimator that detects and then ignores high degree nodes. Consequently, we show that such an estimator has a lower sample complexity requirement for learning the overall graph when the true graph has a few high-degree nodes or "hubs" for e.g. scale-free graphs. 2. Kernel Ridge Regression via partitioning: Kernel methods find wide and varied applicability in machine learning. However, solving the Kernel Ridge Regression (KRR) optimization requires computation that is cubic in the number of samples. In this work, we consider a divide-and-conquer approach to solve the KRR problem. The division step involves splitting the samples based on a partitioning of the input space, and the conquering step is to simply use the local KRR estimate in each partition. We show that this can not only lower the computational requirements of solving the KRR problem, but also lead to improved accuracy over both a single KRR estimate, and estimates based on random data partitioning. 3. Stragglers in Distributed Synchronous Gradient Descent: Synchronous methods in machine learning have many desirable properties, but they are only as fast as the slowest machine in a distributed system. The straggler/slow machine problem is a critical bottleneck for such methods. In this part of our work, we propose a novel framework based on Coding Theory for mitigating stragglers in Distributed Synchronous Gradient Descent (and its variants). Our approach views stragglers as errors/erasures. By carefully replicating data blocks and coding across gradients, we show how this can provide tolerance to failures and stragglers without incurring any communication overheads.


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