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Submodular Functions: from Discrete to Continuous Domains
Francis Bach

Fri Dec 09 05:00 AM -- 05:30 AM (PST) @ None

Submodular set-functions have many applications in combinatorial optimization, as they can be minimized and approximately maximized in polynomial time. A key element in many of the algorithms and analyses is the possibility of extending the submodular set-function to a convex function, which opens up tools from convex optimization. Submodularity goes beyond set-functions and has naturally been considered for problems with multiple labels or for functions defined on continuous domains, where it corresponds essentially to cross second-derivatives being nonpositive. In this paper, we show that most results relating submodularity and convexity for set-functions can be extended to all submodular functions. In particular, (a) we naturally define a continuous extension in a set of probability measures, (b) show that the extension is convex if and only if the original function is submodular, (c) prove that the problem of minimizing a submodular function is equivalent to a typically non-smooth convex optimization problem, and (d) propose another convex optimization problem with better computational properties (e.g., a smooth dual problem). Most of these extensions from the set-function situation are obtained by drawing links with the theory of multi-marginal optimal transport, which provides also a new interpretation of existing results for set-functions. We then provide practical algorithms to minimize generic submodular functions on discrete domains, with associated convergence rates.

Author Information

Francis Bach (INRIA - Ecole Normale Superieure)

Francis Bach is a researcher at INRIA, leading since 2011 the SIERRA project-team, which is part of the Computer Science Department at Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris, France. After completing his Ph.D. in Computer Science at U.C. Berkeley, he spent two years at Ecole des Mines, and joined INRIA and Ecole Normale Supérieure in 2007. He is interested in statistical machine learning, and especially in convex optimization, combinatorial optimization, sparse methods, kernel-based learning, vision and signal processing. He gave numerous courses on optimization in the last few years in summer schools. He has been program co-chair for the International Conference on Machine Learning in 2015.

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