Section: Research Program

Large-scale learning and optimization

We have entered an era of massive data acquisition, leading to the revival of an old scientific utopia: it should be possible to better understand the world by automatically converting data into knowledge. It is also leading to a new economic paradigm, where data is a valuable asset and a source of activity. Therefore, developing scalable technology to make sense of massive data has become a strategic issue. Computer vision has already started to adapt to these changes.

In particular, very high dimensional models such as deep networks are becoming highly popular and successful for visual recognition. This change is closely related to the advent of big data. On the one hand, these models involve a huge number of parameters and are rich enough to represent well complex objects such as natural images or text corpora. On the other hand, they are prone to overfitting (fitting too closely to training data without being able to generalize to new unseen data) despite regularization; to work well on difficult tasks, they require a large amount of labelled data that has been available only recently. Other cues may explain their success: the deep learning community has made significant engineering efforts, making it possible to learn in a day on a GPU large models that would have required weeks of computations on a traditional CPU, and it has accumulated enough empirical experience to find good hyper-parameters for its networks.

To learn the huge number of parameters of deep hierarchical models requires scalable optimization techniques and large amounts of data to prevent overfitting. This immediately raises two major challenges: how to learn without large amounts of labeled data, or with weakly supervised annotations? How to efficiently learn such huge-dimensional models? To answer the above challenges, we will concentrate on the design and theoretical justifications of deep architectures including our recently proposed deep kernel machines, with a focus on weakly supervised and unsupervised learning, and develop continuous and discrete optimization techniques that push the state of the art in terms of speed and scalability.

This research axis will be developed into three sub-tasks:

  • Deep kernel machines for structured data. Deep kernel machines combine advantages of kernel methods and deep learning. Both approaches rely on high-dimensional models. Kernels implicitly operate in a space of possibly infinite dimension, whereas deep networks explicitly construct high-dimensional nonlinear data representations. Yet, these approaches are complementary: Kernels can be built with deep learning principles such as hierarchies and convolutions, and approximated by multilayer neural networks. Furthermore, kernels work with structured data and have well understood theoretical principles. Thus, a goal of the Thoth project-team is to design and optimize the training of such deep kernel machines.

  • Large-scale parallel optimization. Deep kernel machines produce nonlinear representations of input data points. After encoding these data points, a learning task is often formulated as a large-scale convex optimization problem; for example, this is the case for linear support vector machines, logistic regression classifiers, or more generally many empirical risk minimization formulations. We intend to pursue recent efforts for making convex optimization techniques that are dedicated to machine learning more scalable. Most existing approaches address scalability issues either in model size (meaning that the function to minimize is defined on a domain of very high dimension), or in the amount of training data (typically, the objective is a large sum of elementary functions). There is thus a large room for improvements for techniques that jointly take these two criteria into account.

  • Large-scale graphical models. To represent structured data, we will also investigate graphical models and their optimization. The challenge here is two-fold: designing an adequate cost function and minimizing it. While several cost functions are possible, their utility will be largely determined by the efficiency and the effectiveness of the optimization algorithms for solving them. It is a combinatorial optimization problem involving billions of variables and is NP-hard in general, requiring us to go beyond the classical approximate inference techniques. The main challenges in minimizing cost functions stem from the large number of variables to be inferred, the inherent structure of the graph induced by the interaction terms (e.g., pairwise terms), and the high-arity terms which constrain multiple entities in a graph.