# Research Prepration Exam: Pravesh Kothari

**Title: **Representation, Approximation and Learning of Submodular Functions Using Low-Rank Decision Trees

**Abstract:**

We study the complexity of approximate representation and learning of submodular functions over the uniform distribution on the Boolean hypercube. Our main result is the following structural theorem: any submodular function is $\epsilon$-close in $\ell_2$ to a real-valued decision tree (DT) of depth $O(1/\epsilon^2)$. This immediately implies that any submodular function is $\epsilon$-close to a function of at most $2^{O(1/\epsilon^2)}$ variables (independent of the ambient dimension) and has a spectral $\ell_1$ norm of $2^{O(1/\epsilon^2)}$. It also implies the closest previous result that states that submodular functions can be approximated by polynomials of degree $O(1/\epsilon^2)$ (Cheraghchi et al., 2012). Our result is proved by constructing an approximation of a submodular function by a Decision Tree of rank $4/\epsilon^2$ and a proof that any rank-$r$ DT can be $\epsilon$-approximated by a DT of depth $\frac{5}{2}(r+\log(1/\epsilon))$.

We show that these structural results can be exploited to give an attribute-efficient PAC learning algorithm for submodular functions running in time $\tilde{O}(n^2) \cdot 2^{O(1/\epsilon^{4})}$. The best previous algorithm for the problem requires $n^{O(1/\epsilon^{2})}$ time and examples (Cheraghchi et al., 2012) but works also in the agnostic setting. In addition, we give improved learning algorithms for a number of related settings.

We also prove that our PAC and agnostic learning algorithms are essentially optimal via two lower bounds: (1) an information-theoretic lower bound of $2^{\Omega(1/\epsilon^{2/3})}$ on the complexity of learning monotone submodular functions in any reasonable model; (2) computational lower bound of $n^{\Omega(1/\epsilon^{2/3})}$ based on a reduction to learning of sparse parities with noise, widely-believed to be intractable. These are the first lower bounds for learning of submodular functions over the uniform distribution.

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