# Smoothed analysis in distributed computing

13 Jan 2020Happy 2020! A short post about smoothed analysis in distributed computing.

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Some (non-minimum-spanning) trees.
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Smoothed analysis is about a complexity measure in between the complexity on random instances and the complexity on worst-case instances. It basically asks about the complexity on the worst instance, but with a small random permutation. The goal of this measure is to better capture the complexity observed in practice.

For example, the simplex algorithm performs very well in practice but is proved to be exponential in the worst-case. This means that worst-case complexity is not the right tool to evaluate this algorithm. But if you consider a bit of noise, then the simplex algorithm becomes polynomial! More precisely the complexity is bounded by a polynomial in $n$ and $1/\sigma$, where $\sigma$ is the standard deviation of the gaussian noise. This somehow explains why the simplex is so good in practice: the examples where it is exponential are very special constructions, that are eliminated by small perturbations.

I was recentely asked whether there exists some smoothed analysis in network distributed computing. There is actually a recent paper that started that. It does a smoothed analysis of distributed minimum spanning tree.

A problem with smoothed analysis, or a feature maybe, is that it can be made in different ways, in particular a question is: What kind of noise do you consider? When there are numerical inputs, you can modify these inputs with a gaussian noise. But in the case of minimum spanning tree, small perturbations of the weights do not change much. More precisely, given a difficult instance, one would have to add a noise of the same order of magnitude as the weights to break the lower bound. Instead, the authors of the paper above consider a model where each node is allowed to ask for a new adjacent random edge at each round. These new edges have infinite weight thus they are not useful for the MST, only for the communication. This seems a rather strange model, but I can imagine that a lot of more natural variants do not make sense.

More generally, a problem I can see with smoothed analysis for the LOCAL model for example, is that it is based on the idea that random instances are easy. For graphs, a natural choice of random instances, is Erdos-Renyi graphs, but these are not always easy for distributed algorithms: they are sometimes used as lower bound instances (or more precisely they are expanders, and have logarithmic girth, which are two properties that often pop up in lower bounds). Some graphs that are somehow easy are grids, but I donâ€™t know what kind of random transformation you can apply to a graph to make it more grid-like.

One could also play with the identifiers. For example a random identifier assignment often boils down to a randomized algorithms (see this), and maybe some slightly random assignement could make sense.