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

Developing Novel Adaptive Stochastic Algorithms

We are planning on developing novel algorithms in the subdomains with strong practical demand for better methods of constrained, multiobjective, large-scale and expensive optimization.

Constrained optimization

Many (real-world) optimization problems have constraints related to technical feasibility, cost, etc. Constraints are classically handled in the black-box setting either via rejection of solutions violating the constraints—which can be quite costly and even lead to quasi-infinite loops—or by penalization with respect to the distance to the feasible domain (if this information can be extracted) or with respect to the constraint function value [18]. However, the penalization coefficient is a sensitive parameter that needs to be adapted in order to achieve a robust and general method [19]. Yet, the question of how to handle properly constraints is largely unsolved. The latest constraints handling for CMA-ES is an ad-hoc technique driven by many heuristics [19]. Also, it is particularly only recently that it was pointed out that linear convergence properties should be preserved when addressing constraint problems [13].

Promising approaches though, rely on using augmented Lagrangians [13], [14]. The augmented Lagrangian, here, is the objective function optimized by the algorithm. Yet, it depends on coefficients that are adapted online. The adaptation of those coefficients is the difficult part: the algorithm should be stable and the adaptation efficient. We believe that the theoretical frameworks developed (particularly the Markov chain framework) will be useful to understand how to design the adaptation mechanisms. Additionally, the question of invariance will also be at the core of the design of the methods: augmented Lagrangian approaches break the invariance to monotonic transformation of the objective functions, yet understanding the maximal invariance that can be achieved seems to be an important step towards understanding what adaptation rules should satisfy.

Large-scale Optimization

In the large-scale setting, we are interested to optimize problems with the order of 103 to 104 variables. For one to two orders of magnitude more variables, we will talk about a “very large-scale" setting.

In this context, algorithms with a quadratic scaling (internal and in terms of number of function evaluations needed to optimize the problem) cannot be afforded. In CMA-ES-type algorithms, we typically need to restrict the model of the covariance matrix to have only a linear number of parameters to learn such that the algorithms scale linearly. The main challenge is thus to have rich enough models for which we can efficiently design proper adaptation mechanisms. Some first large-scale variants of CMA-ES have been derived. They include the online adaptation of the complexity of the model [12], [11]. Yet there are still open problems related to being able to learn both short and long axes in the models.

Another direction, we want to pursue, is exploring the use of large-scale variants of CMA-ES to solve reinforcement learning problems [27].

Last, we are interested to investigate the very-large-scale setting. One approach consist in doing optimization in subspaces. This entails the efficient identification of relevant spaces and the restriction of the optimization to those subspaces.

Multiobjective Optimization

Multiobjective optimization, i.e., the simultaneous optimization of multiple objective functions, differs from single-objective optimization in particular in its optimization goal. Instead of aiming at converging to the solution with the best possible function value, in multiobjective optimization, a set of solutions(Often, this set forms a manifold of dimension one smaller than the number of objectives.) is sought. This set, called Pareto-set, contains all trade-off solutions in the sense of Pareto-optimality—no solution exists that is better in all objectives than a Pareto-optimal one. Because converging towards a set differs from converging to a single solution, it is no surprise that we might lose many good convergence properties if we directly apply search operators from single-objective methods. However, this is what has typically been done so far in the literature. Indeed, most of the research in stochastic algorithms for multiobjective optimization focused instead on the so called selection part, that decides which solutions should be kept during the optimization—a question that can be considered as solved for many years in the case of single-objective stochastic adaptive methods.

We therefore aim at rethinking search operators and adaptive mechanisms to improve existing methods. We expect that we can obtain orders of magnitude better convergence rates for certain problem types if we choose the right search operators. We typically see two angles of attack: On the one hand, we will study methods based on scalarizing functions that transform the multiobjective problem into a set of single-objective problems. Those single-objective problems can then be solved with state-of-the-art single-objective algorithms. Classical methods for multiobjective optimization fall into this category, but they all solve multiple single-objective problems subsequently (from scratch) instead of dynamically changing the scalarizing function during the search. On the other hand, we will improve on currently available population-based methods such as the first multiobjective versions of the CMA-ES. Here, research is needed on an even more fundamental level such as trying to understand success probabilities observed during an optimization run or how we can introduce non-elitist selection (the state of the art in single-objective stochastic adaptive algorithms) to increase robustness regarding noisy evaluations or multi-modality. The challenge here, compared to single-objective algorithms, is that the quality of a solution is not anymore independent from other sampled solutions, but can potentially depend on all known solutions (in the case of three or more objective functions), resulting in a more noisy evaluation as the relatively simple function-value-based ranking within single-objective optimizers.

Expensive Optimization

In the so-called expensive optimization scenario, a single function evaluation might take several minutes or even hours in a practical setting. Hence, the available budget in terms of number of function evaluation calls to find a solution is very limited in practice. To tackle such expensive optimization problems, it is needed to exploit the first few function evaluations in the best way. To this end, typical methods couple the learning of a surrogate (or meta-model) of the expensive objective function with traditional optimization algorithms.

In the context of expensive optimization and CMA-ES, which usually shows its full potential when the number n of variables is not too small (say larger than 3) and if the number of available function evaluations is about 100n or larger, several research directions emerge. The two main possibilities to integrate meta-models into the search with CMA-ES type algorithms are (i) the successive injection of the minimum of a learned meta-model at each time step into the learning of CMA-ES's covariance matrix and (ii) the use of a meta-model to predict the internal ranking of solutions. While for the latter, first results exist, the former idea is entirely unexplored for now. In both cases, a fundamental question is which type of meta-model (linear, quadratic, Gaussian Process, ...) is the best choice for a given number of function evaluations (as low as one or two function evaluations) and at which time the type of the meta-model shall be switched.