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Nitish Korula

Nitish Korula

Nitish is a Research Scientist at Google. His research interests lie in algorithm design, especially for optimization problems where it is hard to find optimal solutions. In particular, he is interested in approximation and online algorithms, combinatorial optimization, graph theory, and algorithmic game theory.

Before joining Google, Nitish received his Ph.D.in Computer Science at the University of Illinois, and his B.E. from Birla Institute of Technology & Science (BITS), Pilani.

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    Preview abstract In the submodular welfare maximization (SWM) problem, the input consists of a set of n items, each of which must be allocated to one of m agents. Each agent ell has a valuation function v_ell, where v_ell(S) denotes the welfare obtained by this agent if she receives the set of items S. The functions v_ell are all submodular; as is standard, we assume that they are monotone and v_ell(∅) = 0. The goal is to partition the items into m disjoint subsets S1, S2, . . . , Sm in order to maximize the social welfare, defined as \Sum_ell v_ell(S_ell). A simple greedy algorithm gives a 1/2-approximation to SWM in the offline setting, and this was the best known until Vondr´ak’s recent (1 − 1/e)-approximation algorithm. In this paper, we consider the online version of SWM. Here, items arrive one at a time in an online manner; when an item arrives, the algorithm must make an irrevocable decision about which agent to assign it to before seeing any subsequent items. This problem is motivated by applications to Internet advertising, where user ad impressions must be allocated to advertisers whose value is a submodular function of the set of users/impressions they receive. There are two natural models that differ in the order in which items arrive. In the fully adversarial setting, an adversary can construct an arbitrary/worst-case instance, as well as pick the order in which items arrive in order to minimize the algorithm’s performance. In this setting, the 1/2-competitive greedy algorithm is the best possible. To improve on this, one must weaken the adversary slightly: In the random order model, the adversary can construct a worst-case set of items and valuations but does not control the order in which the items arrive; instead, they are assumed to arrive in a random order. The random order model has been well studied for online SWM and various special cases, but the best known competitive ratio (even for several special cases) is 1/2 + 1/n, which is barely better than the ratio for the adversarial order. Obtaining a competitive ratio of 1/2 + Ω(1) for the random order model has been an important open problem for several years. We solve this open problem by demonstrating that the greedy algorithm has a competitive ratio of at least 0.505 for online SWM in the random order model. This is the first result showing a competitive ratio bounded above 1/2 in the random order model, even for special cases such as the weighted matching or budgeted allocation problem (without the so-called large capacity assumptions). For special cases of submodular functions including weighted matching, weighted coverage functions, and a broader class of “second-order supermodular” functions, we provide a different analysis that gives a competitive ratio of 0.51. We analyze the greedy algorithm using a factor-revealing linear program, bounding how the assignment of one item can decrease potential welfare from assigning future items. In addition to our new competitive ratios for online SWM, we make two further contributions: First, we define the classes of second-order modular, supermodular, and submodular functions, which are likely to be of independent interest in submodular optimization. Second, we obtain an improved competitive ratio via a technique we refer to as gain linearizing, which may be useful in other contexts: Essentially, we linearize the submodular function by dividing the gain of an optimal solution into gain from individual elements, compare the algorithm’s gain when it assigns an element to the optimal solution’s gain from the element, and, crucially, bound the extent to which assigning elements can affect the potential gain of other elements. View details
    Preview abstract Online allocation problems have been widely studied due to their numerous practical applications (particularly to Internet advertising), as well as considerable theoretical interest. The main challenge in such problems is making assignment decisions in the face of uncertainty about future input; effective algorithms need to predict which constraints are most likely to bind, and learn the balance between short-term gain and the value of long-term resource availability. In many important applications, the algorithm designer is faced with multiple objectives to optimize. In particular, in online advertising it is fairly common to optimize multiple metrics, such as clicks, conversions, and impressions, as well as other metrics which may be largely uncorrelated such as ‘share of voice’, and ‘buyer surplus’. While there has been considerable work on multi-objective offline optimization (when the entire input is known in advance), very little is known about the online case, particularly in the case of adversarial input. In this paper, we give the first results for bi-objective online submodular optimization, providing almost matching upper and lower bounds for allocating items to agents with two submodular value functions. We also study practically relevant special cases of this problem related to Internet advertising, and obtain improved results. All our algorithms are nearly best possible, as well as being efficient and easy to implement in practice. View details
    Preview abstract In the context of online ad serving, display ads may appear on different types of webpages, where each page includes several ad slots and therefore multiple ads can be shown on each page. The set of ads that can be assigned to ad slots of the same page needs to satisfy various prespecified constraints including exclusion constraints, diversity constraints, and the like. Upon arrival of a user, the ad serving system needs to allocate a set of ads to the current webpage respecting these per-page allocation constraints. Previous slot-based settings ignore the important concept of a page and may lead to highly suboptimal results in general. In this article, motivated by these applications in display advertising and inspired by the submodular welfare maximization problem with online bidders, we study a general class of page-based ad allocation problems, present the first (tight) constant-factor approximation algorithms for these problems, and confirm the performance of our algorithms experimentally on real-world datasets. A key technical ingredient of our results is a novel primal-dual analysis for handling free disposal, which updates dual variables using a “level function” instead of a single level and unifies with previous analyses of related problems. This new analysis method allows us to handle arbitrarily complicated allocation constraints for each page. Our main result is an algorithm that achieves a 1 &minus frac 1 e &minus o(1)-competitive ratio. Moreover, our experiments on real-world datasets show significant improvements of our page-based algorithms compared to the slot-based algorithms. Finally, we observe that our problem is closely related to the submodular welfare maximization (SWM) problem. In particular, we introduce a variant of the SWM problem with online bidders and show how to solve this problem using our algorithm for whole-page optimization. View details
    Preview abstract Display advertising is the major source of revenue for service and content providers on the Internet. Here, the authors explain the prevalent mechanisms for selling display advertising, including reservation contracts and real-time bidding. Discussing some of the important challenges in this market from optimization and economic perspectives, they also survey recent results and directions for future research. View details
    Preview abstract Motivated by Internet advertising applications, online allocation problems have been studied extensively in various adversarial and stochastic models. While the adversarial arrival models are too pessimistic, many of the stochastic (such as i.i.d or random-order) arrival models do not realistically capture uncertainty in predictions. A significant cause for such uncertainty is the presence of unpredictable traffic spikes, often due to breaking news or similar events. To address this issue, a simultaneous approximation framework has been proposed to develop algorithms that work well both in the adversarial and stochastic models; however, this framework does not enable algorithms that make good use of partially accurate forecasts when making online decisions. In this paper, we propose a robust online stochastic model that captures the nature of traffic spikes in online advertising. In our model, in addition to the stochastic input for which we have good forecasting, an unknown number of impressions arrive that are adversarially chosen.We design algorithms that combine an stochastic algorithm with an online algorithm that adaptively reacts to inaccurate predictions. We provide provable bounds for our new algorithms in this framework. We accompany our positive results with a set of hardness results showing that that our algorithms are not far from optimal in this framework. As a byproduct of our results, we also present improved online algorithms for a slight variant of the simultaneous approximation framework. View details
    Preview abstract In the Submodular Welfare Maximization (SWM) problem, the input consists of a set of n items, each of which must be allocated to one of m agents. Each agent l has a valuation function vl, where vl(S) denotes the welfare obtained by this agent if she receives the set of items S. The functions vl are all submodular; as is standard, we assume that they are monotone and vl(∅) = 0. The goal is to partition the items into m disjoint subsets S1, S2, ... Sm in order to maximize the social welfare, defined as ∑l = 1m vl(Sl). A simple greedy algorithm gives a 1/2-approximation to SWM in the offline setting, and this was the best known until Vondrak's recent (1-1/e)-approximation algorithm [34]. In this paper, we consider the online version of SWM. Here, items arrive one at a time in an online manner; when an item arrives, the algorithm must make an irrevocable decision about which agent to assign it to before seeing any subsequent items. This problem is motivated by applications to Internet advertising, where user ad impressions must be allocated to advertisers whose value is a submodular function of the set of users / impressions they receive. There are two natural models that differ in the order in which items arrive. In the fully adversarial setting, an adversary can construct an arbitrary / worst-case instance, as well as pick the order in which items arrive in order to minimize the algorithm's performance. In this setting, the 1/2-competitive greedy algorithm is the best possible. To improve on this, one must weaken the adversary slightly: In the random order model, the adversary can construct a worst-case set of items and valuations, but does not control the order in which the items arrive; instead, they are assumed to arrive in a random order. The random order model has been well studied for online SWM and various special cases, but the best known competitive ratio (even for several special cases) is 1/2 + 1/n [9,10], barely better than the ratio for the adversarial order. Obtaining a competitive ratio of 1/2 + Ω(1) for the random order model has been an important open problem for several years. We solve this open problem by demonstrating that the greedy algorithm has a competitive ratio of at least 0.505 for online SWM in the random order model. This is the first result showing a competitive ratio bounded above 1/2 in the random order model, even for special cases such as the weighted matching or budgeted allocation problems (without the so-called 'large capacity' assumptions). For special cases of submodular functions including weighted matching, weighted coverage functions and a broader class of "second-order supermodular" functions, we provide a different analysis that gives a competitive ratio of 0.51. We analyze the greedy algorithm using a factor-revealing linear program, bounding how the assignment of one item can decrease potential welfare from assigning future items. We also formulate a natural conjecture which, if true, would improve the competitive ratio of the greedy algorithm to at least 0.567. In addition to our new competitive ratios for online SWM, we make two further contributions: First, we define the classes of second-order modular, supermodular, and submodular functions, which are likely to be of independent interest in submodular optimization. Second, we obtain an improved competitive ratio via a technique we refer to as gain linearizing, which may be useful in other contexts (see [26]): Essentially, we linearize the submodular function by dividing the gain of an optimal solution into gain from individual elements, compare the gain when it assigns an element to the optimal solution's gain from the element, and, crucially, bound the extent to which assigning elements can affect the potential gain of other elements. View details
    Partner tiering in display advertising
    Anand Bhalgat
    Hennadiy Leontyev
    Max Lin
    WSDM (2014), pp. 133-142
    Preview
    Preview abstract Inspired by online ad allocation problems, many results have been developed for online matching problems. Most of the previous work deals with a single objective, but, in practice, there is a need to optimize multiple objectives. Here, as an illustrative example motivated by display ads allocation, we study a bi-objective online matching problem. In particular, we consider a set of fixed nodes (ads) with capacity constraints, and a set of online items (pageviews) arriving one by one. Upon arrival of an online item $i$, a set of eligible fixed neighbors (ads) for the item is revealed, together with a weight $w_{ia}$ for eligible neighbor $a$. The problem is to assign each item to an eligible neighbor online, while respecting the capacity constraints; the goal is to maximize both the total weight of the matching and the cardinality. In this paper, we present both approximation algorithms and hardness results for this problem. An $(\alpha, \beta)$-approximation for this problem is a matching with weight at least $\alpha$ fraction of the maximum weighted matching, and cardinality at least $\beta$ fraction of maximum cardinality matching. We present a parametrized approximation algorithm that allows a smooth tradeoff curve between the two objectives: when the capacities of fixed nodes are large, we give a $p(1- 1/e^{1/p}), (1-p)(1-1/e^{1/1-p})$-approximation for any $0 \le p \le 1$, and prove a `hardness curve' combining several inapproximability results. These upper and lower bounds are always close (with a maximum gap of $9\%$), and exactly coincide at the point $(0.43, 0.43)$. For small capacities, we present a smooth parametrized approximation curve for the problem between $(0,1-1/e)$ and $(1/2,0)$ passing through a $(1/3,0.3698)$-approximation. View details
    Whole-page optimization and submodular welfare maximization with online bidders
    Nikhil Devanur
    Zhiyi Huang
    ACM Conference on Electronic Commerce (EC) 2013, pp. 305-322
    Preview abstract In the context of online ad serving, display ads may appear on different types of webpages, where each page includes several ad slots and therefore multiple ads can be shown on each page. The set of ads that can be assigned to ad slots of the same page needs to satisfy various prespecified constraints including exclusion constraints, diversity constraints, and the like. Upon arrival of a user, the ad serving system needs to allocate a set of ads to the current webpage respecting these per-page allocation constraints. Previous slot-based settings ignore the important concept of a page and may lead to highly suboptimal results in general. In this article, motivated by these applications in display advertising and inspired by the submodular welfare maximization problem with online bidders, we study a general class of page-based ad allocation problems, present the first (tight) constant-factor approximation algorithms for these problems, and confirm the performance of our algorithms experimentally on real-world datasets. A key technical ingredient of our results is a novel primal-dual analysis for handling free disposal, which updates dual variables using a “level function” instead of a single level and unifies with previous analyses of related problems. This new analysis method allows us to handle arbitrarily complicated allocation constraints for each page. Our main result is an algorithm that achieves a 1 &minus frac 1 e &minus o(1)-competitive ratio. Moreover, our experiments on real-world datasets show significant improvements of our page-based algorithms compared to the slot-based algorithms. Finally, we observe that our problem is closely related to the submodular welfare maximization (SWM) problem. In particular, we introduce a variant of the SWM problem with online bidders and show how to solve this problem using our algorithm for whole-page optimization. View details
    Preview abstract Inspired by online ad allocation, we study online stochastic packing integer programs from theoretical and practical standpoints. We first present a near-optimal online algorithm for a general class of packing integer programs which model various online resource allocation problems including online variants of routing, ad allocations, generalized assignment, and combinatorial auctions. As our main theoretical result, we prove that a simple dual training-based algorithm achieves a (1 − o(1))-approximation guarantee in the random order stochastic model. This is a significant improvement over logarithmic or constant-factor approximations for the adversarial variants of the same problems (e.g. factor 1−1e1−1e for online ad allocation, and log(m) for online routing). We then focus on the online display ad allocation problem and study the efficiency and fairness of various training-based and online allocation algorithms on data sets collected from real-life display ad allocation system. Our experimental evaluation confirms the effectiveness of training-based algorithms on real data sets, and also indicates an intrinsic trade-off between fairness and efficiency. View details
    Preview abstract We examine several online matching problems, with applications to Internet advertising reservation systems. Consider an edge-weighted bipartite graph G, with partite sets L, R. We develop an 8-competitive algorithm for the following secretary problem: Initially given R, and the size of L, the algorithm receives the vertices of L sequentially, in a random order. When a vertex l \in L is seen, all edges incident to l are revealed, together with their weights. The algorithm must immediately either match l to an available vertex of R, or decide that l will remain unmatched. Dimitrov and Plaxton show a 16-competitive algorithm for the transversal matroid secretary problem, which is the special case with weights on vertices, not edges. (Equivalently, one may assume that for each l \in L, the weights on all edges incident to l are identical.) We use a similar algorithm, but simplify and improve the analysis to obtain a better competitive ratio for the more general problem. Perhaps of more interest is the fact that our analysis is easily extended to obtain competitive algorithms for similar problems, such as to find disjoint sets of edges in hypergraphs where edges arrive online. We also introduce secretary problems with adversarially chosen groups. Finally, we give a 2e-competitive algorithm for the secretary problem on graphic matroids, where, with edges appearing online, the goal is to find a maximum-weight acyclic subgraph of a given graph. View details
    Improved Algorithms for Orienteering and Related Problems
    Chandra Chekuri
    Proc. 19th Annual Symposium on Discrete Algorithms (SODA), SIAM (2008)
    Preview
    Prize-collecting Steiner Problems on Planar Graphs
    Chandra Chekuri
    Alina Ene
    MohammadTaghi Hajiaghayi
    Daniel Marx
    Proceedings of the 22nd Annual ACM-SIAM Symposium on Discrete Algorithms (SODA), SIAM, Philadelphia, PA (2011), pp. 1028-1049
    Online Stochastic Ad Allocation: Efficiency and Fairness
    Monika Henzinger
    Clifford Stein
    CoRR, vol. abs/1001.5076 (2010)