Online Optimization for Complexity Theorists

Last year I took some time off to study online convex optimization in some detail. The reason for doing that was similar to the reason why at some point I took time off to study spectral graph theory: it was coming up in several papers that I wanted to understand, and I felt that I was missing out by not mastering an important tool. In particular, I wanted to understand:

  1. The Barak-Hardt-Kale proof of the Impagliazzo hard-core lemma.
  2. The online convex optimization viewpoint on the Frieze-Kannan weak regularity lemma, on the dense model theorem of (RTTV), and on the abstract weak regularity lemma of (TTV) that were described to me by Madhur Tulsiani a few years ago. Furthermore, I wanted to see if Russel Impagliazzo’s subsequent improvements to the dense model theorem and to the abstract weak regularity lemma could be recovered from this point of view.
  3. The Arora-Kale algorithms for semidefinite programming, including their nearly linear-time algorithm for approximating the Goemans-Williamson relaxation of Max Cut.
  4. The meaning of the sentence “multiplicative weights and gradient descent are both special cases of follow-the-regularized-leader, using negative entropy and {\ell_2^2} as regularizer, respectively.”
  5. The AllenZhu-Liao-Orecchia online optimization proof of the Batson-Spielman-Srivastava sparsification result.

I am happy to say that, except for the “furthermore” part of (2), I achieved my goals. To digest this material a bit better, I came up with the rather ambitious plan of writing a series of posts, in which I would alternate between (i) explaining a notion or theorem from online convex optimization (at a level that someone learning about optimization or machine learning might find useful) and (ii) explaining a complexity-theoretic application. Now that a very intense Spring semester is almost over, I plan to get started on this plan, although it is not clear that I will see it through the end. So stay tuned for the forthcoming first episode, which will be about the good old multiplicative weights algorithm.

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3 thoughts on “Online Optimization for Complexity Theorists

  1. I am looking forward to your exposition. I wanted to ask if there is a paper (or series of papers) on (2)…

  2. Russell has been working on an epic paper on (2) for a while, but I don’t think it’s publicly available yet

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