Greed Is Good: Near-Optimal Submodular Maximization via Greedy Optimization

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Moran Feldman, Christopher Harshaw, Amin Karbasi ;
Proceedings of the 2017 Conference on Learning Theory, PMLR 65:758-784, 2017.

Abstract

It is known that greedy methods perform well for maximizing \textitmonotone submodular functions. At the same time, such methods perform poorly in the face of non-monotonicity. In this paper, we show—arguably, surprisingly—that invoking the classical greedy algorithm $O(\sqrt{k})$-times leads to the (currently) fastest deterministic algorithm, called RepeatedGreedy, for maximizing a general submodular function subject to $k$-independent system constraints. RepeatedGreedy achieves $(1 + O(1/\sqrt{k}))k$ approximation using $O(nr\sqrt{k})$ function evaluations (here, $n$ and $r$ denote the size of the ground set and the maximum size of a feasible solution, respectively). We then show that by a careful sampling procedure, we can run the greedy algorithm only \textitonce and obtain the (currently) fastest randomized algorithm, called SampleGreedy, for maximizing a submodular function subject to $k$-extendible system constraints (a subclass of $k$-independent system constrains). SampleGreedy achieves $(k + 3)$-approximation with only $O(nr/k)$ function evaluations. Finally, we derive an almost matching lower bound, and show that no polynomial time algorithm can have an approximation ratio smaller than $ k + 1/2 - \varepsilon$. To further support our theoretical results, we compare the performance of RepeatedGreedy and SampleGreedy with prior art in a concrete application (movie recommendation). We consistently observe that while SampleGreedy achieves practically the same utility as the best baseline, it performs at least two orders of magnitude faster.

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