November notes
30 Nov 2018A few notes for November 2018.
A new paper on descriptive complexity of distributed computing
Descriptive complexity basically aims at characterizing complexity classes through logic. A classic results is Fagin’s Theorem that characterizes NP. Descriptive complexity for distributed computing is a relatively new topic,^{1} and a new paper just came out on arxiv. I’m not a specialist, but from what I understood, the classic assumption of the LOCAL model that there are unique identifiers, is pretty difficult to transfer into logic, and this paper seems to make a step in this direction.
A map of the theory of distributed computing community
Jukka Suomela published
a nice map of the
PODC/DISC communities. (PODC and DISC are the two main conferences in theory
of distributed computing.)
It is a graph where the nodes are the authors, and the edges between them
have different thickness,
depending on how much they have collaborated, or have had papers in the same
sessions. There are strong thematic clusters, which is no surprise.
Symmetries in LPs and SOS
I attended the PhD defense of Cécile Rottner who was a student in the OR team of LIP6. Her thesis was about a problem that any electric utility company faces: how to manage the different the power plants to meet the demand while using the less energy possible, given that there are many constraints on these plants (a nuclear reactor cannot be switched on and off in a minute, some other stuff has to cool down, etc.). As often in OR (as far as I know) this is done by having big LPs and playing with them, adding new inequalities, trying to use the structure to speed the computation, having branch and cut routines etc.
One of the big challenges that one has to tackle when solving these big LPs in an industrial context is to break the symmetries. Suppose you have two identical nuclear reactors in your system. Then if you use one or the other in your solution, you will have the same cost. This implies that you can have many many optimal solutions. This is bad for a branch and cut strategy, where the ideal case is to have only one optimal solution, and to be cutting all the other branches quickly. Cécile showed ways to solve this problem.
This reminded me of another PhD defense with symmetries: the one of Victor Verdugo. Victor had a part of his PhD work on how to break symmetry for sumofsquares. The timing for this blog post is pretty good: the paper of Victor on this topic just appeared on arxiv, here.
Doubleblind for DISC
The conference DISC will go doubleblind next year (that is the names of both the reviewers and the authors will be anonymized).^{2} At first I was sceptical about this idea, because of the usual reasons: extracare in the process (e.g. when talking to people) with probably no big impact, etc. But recently I reviewed a paper by authors from a university I had never heard of, and I felt that before even starting I had a negative bias. I think doubleblind is exactly about protecting authors from this bias.
I heard many times that the problem is that wellknown people get their papers accepted although they are not good enough, and I think this cannot really change (because of arxiv, favourite topics, writing style), but it’s the other side of the spectrum that can be made more fair. So let’s see how it goes.
A few points on networks and games
I attended a talk at LIP6 by Ariel Orda on game theory and networks. The talk described two very interesting works, but I just picked a few nonspecific things that caught my interest.
Network formation games
The first topic is about understanding the structure of realworld networks, by finding ways to build algorithmically networks that have similar properties. A wellknown generation algorithm is the Barabási–Albert model where nodes basically arrive one by one and choose who to be linked to, based on the degree of the nodes that already arrived. There is a second type of network formation model that I didn’t know,^{3}^{,}^{4} which is to start with a fixed set of nodes, and to make them play a game to decide which edges are in the graph. For example, the nodes want to maximize their payoffs in a game where every link cost something, but having short paths to every node is rewarded. These are called network formation games.
Monetary transfer
The second idea is about introducing money in games. Suppose you have a Nash equilibrium that is very bad (for some definition of bad) because each player, when maximizing its gain, is hurting the other players a lot. Then you can introduce monetary transfer, that consists for two players A and B to agree that if the A does this thing that decreases its payoff but increases the payoff of B, then B will give part of its payoff to reimburse A, and both will be happier. Natural idea to consider, but that I had never heard of.
Using motifs to validate a model
I knew that people studying social networks are obsessed with finding motifs (small graphs that appear more often than others), but I was not sure why. It could be just to have more knowledge about the relationships, but in Orda’s talk, it was also a way to validate a model. Basically: in realworld graphs this and that motifs are very common, we don’t know why, and previous generative models did not have this property, but their model could capture this. As far as I know, parameters such as the diameter, or the clustering coefficient are more classic ways to validate such models.
About the price of anarchy, selfishness and collaboration
The price of anarchy, is the ratio between the social cost when each players tries to optimize its own payoff, and when all the players play the strategy that minimize the social cost. It is often said that this price is the price to pay when players are selfish. But it is not completely true, it is also the price of not collaborating. You can image scenarios in which players have the option of collaborating but each player will agree only if it ensures a better payoff. That is the players are still selfish but they can talk to each other and make agreements. This can change the outcome a lot. Then one will consider what is called a Nash bargaining solution.
Footnotes

If you are interested, see Fabian Reiter’s very nice PhD thesis, and the gentle introduction to the topic I wrote on semidoc. ↩

See this tweet ↩

There seems that there is no third wellknown way to generate networks, at least in the wikipedia article about network formation. ↩

Actually I somehow knew because of this paper by my PhD advisor and colleges, but I had forgotten. ↩