Team, Visitors, External Collaborators
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

Hybridizing numerical modeling and learning systems

Participants: Alessandro Bucci, Guillaume Charpiat, Cécile Germain, Isabelle Guyon, Marc Schoenauer, Michèle Sebag

PhD: Théophile Sanchez, Loris Felardos, Wenzhuo Liu

In sciences and engineering, human knowledge is commonly expressed in closed form, through equations or mechanistic models characterizing how a natural or social phenomenon, or a physical device, will behave/evolve depending on its environment and external stimuli, under some assumptions and up to some approximations. The field of numerical engineering, and the simulators based on such mechanistic models, are at the core of most approaches to understand and analyze the world, from solid mechanics to computational fluid dynamics, from chemistry to molecular biology, from astronomy to population dynamics, from epidemiology and information propagation in social networks to economy and finance.

Most generally, numerical engineering supports the simulation, and when appropriate the optimization and control(Note that the causal nature of mechanistic models is established from prior knowledge and experimentations.) of the phenomenons under study, although several sources of discrepancy might adversely affect the results, ranging from the underlying assumptions and simplifying hypotheses in the models, to systematic experiment errors to statistical measurement errors (not to mention numerical issues). This knowledge and know-how are materialized in millions of lines of code, capitalizing the expertise of academic and industrial labs. These softwares have been steadily extended over decades, modeling new and more fine-grained effects through layered extensions, making them increasingly harder to maintain, extend and master. Another difficulty is that complex systems most often resort to hybrid (pluridisciplinary) models, as they involve many components interacting along several time and space scales, hampering their numerical simulation.

At the other extreme, machine learning offers the opportunity to model phenomenons from scratch, using any available data gathered through experiments or simulations. Recent successes of machine learning in computer vision, natural language processing and games to name a few, have demonstrated the power of such agnostic approaches and their efficiency in terms of prediction [123], inverse problem solving [170], and sequential decision making [162], [81], despite their lack of any "semantic" understanding of the universe. Even before these successes, Anderson's claim was that the data deluge [might make] the scientific method obsolete [70], as if a reasonable option might be to throw away the existing equational or software bodies of knowledge, and let Machine Learning rediscover all models from scratch. Such a claim is hampered among others by the fact that not all domains offer a wealth of data, as any academic involved in an industrial collaboration around data has discovered.

Another approach will be considered in Tau , investigating how existing mechanistic models and related simulators can be partnered with ML algorithms: i) to achieve the same goals with the same methods with a gain of accuracy or time; ii) to achieve new goals; iii) to achieve the same goals with new methods.


Toward more robust numerical engineering: In domains where satisfying mechanistic models and simulators are available, ML can contribute to improve their accuracy or usability. A first direction is to refine or extend the models and simulators to better fit the empirical evidence. The goal is to finely account for the different biases and uncertainties attached to the available knowledge and data, distinguishing the different types of known unknowns. Such known unknowns include the model hyper-parameters (coefficients), the systematic errors due to e.g., experiment imperfections, and the statistical errors due to e.g., measurement errors. A second approach is based on learning a surrogate model for the phenomenon under study that incorporate domain knowledge from the mechanistic model (or its simulation). See Section 7.5 for case studies.

A related direction, typically when considering black-box simulators, aims to learn a model of the error, or equivalently, a post-processor of the software. The discrepancy between simulated and empirical results, referred to as reality gap [128], can be tackled in terms of domain adaptation [74], [99]. Specifically, the source domain here corresponds to the simulated phenomenon, offering a wealth of inexpensive data, and the target domain corresponds to the actual phenomenon, with rare and expensive data; the goal is to devise accurate target models using the source data and models.


Extending numerical engineering: ML, using both experimental and numerical data, can also be used to tackle new goals, that are beyond the current state-of-the-art of standard approaches. Inverse problems are such goals, identifying the parameters or the initial conditions of phenomenons for which the model is not differentiable, or amenable to the adjoint state method.

A slightly different kind of inverse problem is that of recovering the ground truth when only noisy data is available. This problem can be formulated as a search for the simplest model explaining the data. The question then becomes to formulate and efficiently exploit such a simplicity criterion.

Another goal can be to model the distribution of given quantiles for some system: The challenge is to exploit available data to train a generative model, aimed at sampling the target quantiles.

Examples tackled in TAU are detailed in Section 7.5. Note that the "Cracking the Glass Problem", described in Section 7.2.3 is yet another instance of a similar problem.


Data-driven numerical engineering : Finally, ML can also be used to sidestep numerical engineering limitations in terms of scalability, or to build a simulator emulating the resolution of the (unknown) mechanistic model from data, or to revisit the formal background.

When the mechanistic model is known and sufficiently accurate, it can be used to train a deep network on an arbitrary set of (space,time) samples, resulting in a meshless numerical approximation of the model [151], supporting by construction differentiable programming [125].

When no mechanistic model is sufficiently efficient, the model must be identified from the data only. Genetic programming has been used to identify systems of ODEs [149], through the identification of invariant quantities from data, as well as for the direct identification of control commands of nonlinear complex systems, including some chaotic systems [88]. Another recent approach uses two deep neural networks, one for the state of the system, the other for the equation itself [142]. The critical issues for both approaches include the scalability, and the explainability of the resulting models. Such line of research will benefit from TAU unique mixed expertise in Genetic Programming and Deep Learning.

Finally, in the realm of signal processing (SP), the question is whether and how deep networks can be used to revisit mainstream feature extraction based on Fourier decomposition, wavelet and scattering transforms [76]. E. Bartenlian's PhD (started Oct. 2018), co-supervised by M. Sebag and F. Pascal (Centrale-Supélec), focusing on musical audio-to-score translation [150], inspects the effects of supervised training, taking advantage from the fact that convolution masks can be initialized and analyzed in terms of frequency.