Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 33 (NeurIPS 2020)

*Gamal Sallam, Zizhan Zheng, Jie Wu, Bo Ji*

Submodularity is an important property of set functions and has been extensively studied in the literature. It models set functions that exhibit a diminishing returns property, where the marginal value of adding an element to a set decreases as the set expands. This notion has been generalized to considering sequence functions, where the order of adding elements plays a crucial role and determines the function value; the generalized notion is called sequence (or string) submodularity. In this paper, we study a new problem of robust sequence submodular maximization with cardinality constraints. The robustness is against the removal of a subset of elements in the selected sequence (e.g., due to malfunctions or adversarial attacks). Compared to robust submodular maximization for set function, new challenges arise when sequence functions are concerned. Specifically, there are multiple definitions of submodularity for sequence functions, which exhibit subtle yet critical differences. Another challenge comes from two directions of monotonicity: forward monotonicity and backward monotonicity, both of which are important to proving performance guarantees. To address these unique challenges, we design two robust greedy algorithms: while one algorithm achieves a constant approximation ratio but is robust only against the removal of a subset of contiguous elements, the other is robust against the removal of an arbitrary subset of the selected elements but requires a stronger assumption and achieves an approximation ratio that depends on the number of the removed elements. Finally, we generalize the analyses to considering sequence functions under weaker assumptions based on approximate versions of sequence submodularity and backward monotonicity.

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