A Data Prism: Semi-verified learning in the small-alpha regime


Michela Meister, Gregory Valiant ;
Proceedings of the 31st Conference On Learning Theory, PMLR 75:1530-1546, 2018.


We consider a simple model of unreliable or crowdsourced data where there is an underlying set of $n$ binary variables, each “evaluator” contributes a (possibly unreliable or adversarial) estimate of the values of some subset of $r$ of the variables, and the learner is given the true value of a \emph{constant} number of variables. We show that, provided an $\alpha$-fraction of the evaluators are “good” (either correct, or with independent noise rate $p < 1/2$), then the true values of a $(1-\eps)$ fraction of the $n$ underlying variables can be deduced as long as $r > \log_{2-2p}(1/\alpha)$. For example, if the fraction of “good” evaluators is larger than $1/16$ and there is no noise in their responses, then accurate recovery is possible provided each worker evaluates a random set of $4$ items. This result is optimal in that if $r \leq \log_{2-2p}(1/\alpha)$ the large dataset can contain no information. This setting can be viewed as an instance of the \emph{semi-verified} learning model introduced by Charikar, Steinhardt, and Valiant, which explores the tradeoff between the number of items evaluated by each worker and the fraction of “good” evaluators. In the standard adversarial setting, our algorithm requires $\tilde{O}\left(n^{\log_{2-2p}(1/\alpha)}\right)$ evaluators. However, the algorithm runs in near linear time, $\tilde{O}_{r,\eps}(n)$, and hence would require only a near-linear number of evaluations in the weaker model in which the adversary’s responses to each $r$-tuple of items are independent of the set of evaluations collected. These settings and results can also be viewed as examining a general class of semi-adversarial CSPs with a planted assignment. This extreme parameter regime, where the fraction of reliable data is small (inverse exponential in the amount of data provided by each source), is relevant to a number of practical settings. For example, the setting where you collect a dataset on customer preferences, with each customer specifying preferences for a small (constant) number of items, and the goal is to ascertain the preferences of a specific demographic of interest. Our results show that this large dataset (which lacks demographic information) can be leveraged together with the preferences of the demographic of interest for a \emph{constant} (polynomial in $1/\alpha$ but independent of $n$), number of randomly selected items, to recover an accurate estimate of the entire set of preferences, even if the fraction of the original dataset contributed by the demographic of interest is inverse exponential in the number of preferences supplied by each customer. In this sense, our results can be viewed as a “data prism” allowing one to extract the behavior of specific cohorts from a large, mixed, dataset.

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