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Abstract:In the noisy population recovery problem of Dvir et al., the goal is to learn an unknown distribution $f$ on binary strings of length $n$ from noisy samples. For some parameter $\mu \in [0,1]$, a noisy sample is generated by flipping each coordinate of a sample from $f$ independently with probability $(1-\mu)/2$. We assume an upper bound $k$ on the size of the support of the distribution, and the goal is to estimate the probability of any string to within some given error $\varepsilon$. It is known that the algorithmic complexity and sample complexity of this problem are polynomially related to each other. We show that for $\mu > 0$, the sample complexity (and hence the algorithmic complexity) is bounded by a polynomial in $k$, $n$ and $1/\varepsilon$ improving upon the previous best result of $\mathsf{poly}(k^{\log\log k},n,1/\varepsilon)$ due to Lovett and Zhang. Our proof combines ideas from Lovett and Zhang with a \emph{noise attenuated} version of M\"{o}bius inversion. In turn, the latter crucially uses the construction of \emph{robust local inverse} due to Moitra and Saks.

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Abstract:We give a polynomial time algorithm for the lossy population recovery problem. In this problem, the goal is to approximately learn an unknown distribution on binary strings of length $n$ from lossy samples: for some parameter $\mu$ each coordinate of the sample is preserved with probability $\mu$ and otherwise is replaced by a `?'. The running time and number of samples needed for our algorithm is polynomial in $n$ and $1/\varepsilon$ for each fixed $\mu>0$. This improves on algorithm of Wigderson and Yehudayoff that runs in quasi-polynomial time for any $\mu > 0$ and the polynomial time algorithm of Dvir et al which was shown to work for $\mu \gtrapprox 0.30$ by Batman et al. In fact, our algorithm also works in the more general framework of Batman et al. in which there is no a priori bound on the size of the support of the distribution. The algorithm we analyze is implicit in previous work; our main contribution is to analyze the algorithm by showing (via linear programming duality and connections to complex analysis) that a certain matrix associated with the problem has a robust local inverse even though its condition number is exponentially small. A corollary of our result is the first polynomial time algorithm for learning DNFs in the restriction access model of Dvir et al.

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Abstract:The complexity of a computational problem is traditionally quantified based on the hardness of its worst case. This approach has many advantages and has led to a deep and beautiful theory. However, from the practical perspective, this leaves much to be desired. In application areas, practically interesting instances very often occupy just a tiny part of an algorithm's space of instances, and the vast majority of instances are simply irrelevant. Addressing these issues is a major challenge for theoretical computer science which may make theory more relevant to the practice of computer science. Following Bilu and Linial, we apply this perspective to MAXCUT, viewed as a clustering problem. Using a variety of techniques, we investigate practically interesting instances of this problem. Specifically, we show how to solve in polynomial time distinguished, metric, expanding and dense instances of MAXCUT under mild stability assumptions. In particular, $(1+\epsilon)$-stability (which is optimal) suffices for metric and dense MAXCUT. We also show how to solve in polynomial time $\Omega(\sqrt{n})$-stable instances of MAXCUT, substantially improving the best previously known result.

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Abstract:Numerous papers ask how difficult it is to cluster data. We suggest that the more relevant and interesting question is how difficult it is to cluster data sets {\em that can be clustered well}. More generally, despite the ubiquity and the great importance of clustering, we still do not have a satisfactory mathematical theory of clustering. In order to properly understand clustering, it is clearly necessary to develop a solid theoretical basis for the area. For example, from the perspective of computational complexity theory the clustering problem seems very hard. Numerous papers introduce various criteria and numerical measures to quantify the quality of a given clustering. The resulting conclusions are pessimistic, since it is computationally difficult to find an optimal clustering of a given data set, if we go by any of these popular criteria. In contrast, the practitioners' perspective is much more optimistic. Our explanation for this disparity of opinions is that complexity theory concentrates on the worst case, whereas in reality we only care for data sets that can be clustered well. We introduce a theoretical framework of clustering in metric spaces that revolves around a notion of "good clustering". We show that if a good clustering exists, then in many cases it can be efficiently found. Our conclusion is that contrary to popular belief, clustering should not be considered a hard task.

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