Overall Objectives
Research Program
Application Domains
Highlights of the Year
New Software and Platforms
New Results
Bilateral Contracts and Grants with Industry
Partnerships and Cooperations
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Section: Research Program

The Four Pillars of TAO

This Section describes TAO main research directions at the crossroad of Machine Learning and Evolutionary Computation. Since 2008, TAO has been structured in several special interest groups (SIGs) to enable the agile investigation of long-term or emerging theoretical and applicative issues. The comparatively small size of TAO SIGs enables in-depth and lively discussions; the fact that all TAO members belong to several SIGs, on the basis of their personal interests, enforces the strong and informal collaboration of the groups, and the fast information dissemination.

The first two SIGs consolidate the key TAO scientific pillars, while the others evolve and adapt to new topics.

The Stochastic Continuous Optimization SIG (OPT-SIG) takes advantage of the fact that TAO is acknowledged the best French research group and one of the top international groups in evolutionary computation from a theoretical and algorithmic standpoint. A main priority on the OPT-SIG research agenda is to provide theoretical and algorithmic guarantees for the current world state-of-the-art continuous stochastic optimizer, CMA-ES, ranging from convergence analysis (Youhei Akimoto's post-docs) to a rigorous benchmarking methodology. Incidentally, this benchmark platform COCO has been acknowledged since 2009 as “the“ international continuous optimization benchmark, and its extension is at the core of the ANR project NumBBO (started end 2012). Another priority is to address the current limitations of CMA-ES in terms of high-dimensional or expensive optimization and constraint handling (respectively Ouassim Ait El Hara's, Ilya Loshchilov's PhDs and Asma Atamna's).

The Optimal Decision Making under Uncertainty SIG (UCT-SIG) benefits from the MoGo expertise and the team previous activity reports) and its past and present world records in the domain of computer-Go, establishing the international visibility of TAO in sequential decision making. Since 2010, UCT-SIG resolutely moves to address the problems of energy management from a fundamental and applied perspective. On the one hand, energy management offers a host of challenging issues, ranging from long-horizon policy optimization to the combinatorial nature of the search space, from the modeling of prior knowledge to non-stationary environment to name a few. On the other hand, the energy management issue can hardly be tackled in a pure academic perspective: tight collaborations with industrial partners are needed to access the true operational constraints. Such international and national collaborations have been started by Olivier Teytaud during his three stays (1 year, 6 months, 6 months) in Taiwan, and witnessed by the FP7 STREP Citines, the ADEME Post contract, and the METIS I-lab with SME Artelys.

The Data Science SIG (DS-SIG) now includes the activities related to the CDS and ISN Lidex in Saclay. On the one hand, it replaces and extends the former Distributed systems SIG, that was devoted to the modeling and optimization of (large scale) distributed systems, and itself was extending the goals of the original Autonomic Computing SIG, initiated by Cécile Germain-Renaud and investigating the use of statistical Machine Learning for large scale computational architectures, from data acquisition (the Grid Observatory in the European Grid Initiative) to grid management and fault detection. But these activities have become more and more application-driven, from High Energy Physics for the highly distributed computation to the Social Sciences for the multi-agents approaches – hence the change of focus of this SIG. A major result of this theme has been the creation 2 years ago of the Paris-Saclay Center for Data Science, co-chaired by Balázs Kégl, and the organization of the Higgs-ML challenge ( ), most popular challenge ever on the Kaggle platform.

On the other hand, several activities around Digital Humanities involving Gregory Grefenstette, Cécile Germain-Renaud, Michèle Sebag and Philippe Caillou, have widely extended previous work around the modeling of multi-agent systems and the exploitation of simulation results in the SimTools RNSC network frame. Digital Humanities involves adding semantics to underspecified collections of societal information: in an historical perspective (as in the new TAO H2020 project, EHRI-II on holocaust archives, or in the Gregorius project on church history); or an economical and societal perspective (as in the Cartolabe and AMIQAP projects); or an individual perspective (as in the ongoing Personal Semantics project). The key challenge here is to use learning algorithms to find structure and extract knwoledge from poorly structured or unstructured information, and to provide intelligible results and/or means to interact with the user.

The Designing Criteria SIG (CRI-SIG) focuses on the design of learning and optimization criteria. It elaborates on the lessons learned from the former Complex Systems SIG, showing that the key issue in challenging applications often is to design the objective itself. Such targeted criteria are pervasive in the study and building of autonomous cognitive systems, ranging from intrinsic rewards in robotics to the notion of saliency in vision and image understanding, and that of automatic algorithm selection and parameterization. The desired criteria can also result from fundamental requirements, such as scale invariance in a statistical physics perspective, and guide the algorithmic design. Additionally, the criteria can also be domain-driven and reflect the expert priors concerning the structure of the sought solution (e.g., spatio-temporal consistency); the challenge is to formulate such criteria in a mixed non convex/non differentiable objective function, nevertheless amenable to tractable optimization.

The Deep Learning and Information Theory SIG (DEEP-SIG) involves Yann Ollivier, Guillaume Charpiat, Michèle Sebag. This SIG originated from some extensions of the wwork done in the Distributed Systems SIG that have been developped in the context of the TIMCO FUI project (started end 2012 and just ended); the challenge was not only to port ML algorithms on massively distributed architectures, but to see how these architectures can inspire new ML criteria and methodologies. The coincidence of this project with the arrival of Yann Ollivier in TAO gradualy lead this work toward Deep Networks. This year, in addition to studying various theoretical and practical aspects of deep learning, we provide information-theoretic perspectives on the design and optimization of deep learning models, such as using the Fisher information matrix to optimize the parameters, or using minimum description length criteria to choose the right model structure (topology of the neural graph, addition or removal of parameters...) and to provide regularization and model selection.