Princeton University

School of Engineering & Applied Science

From Communication to Sensing and Learning: Information Theory at the Heart of Data Science

Hamed Hassani, ETH Zurich
E-Quad, B205
Thursday, February 25, 2016 - 4:30pm

We are witnessing a new era of science — ushered in by our ability to collect massive amounts of data and unprecedented ways to learn about the physical world. Beyond the challenges of storage and communication, there are new frontiers in the acquisition, analysis and exploration of the data. In this talk, I will view these frontiers through the lens of information theory. I will argue that information theory lies at the center of data science, offering insights beyond its classical applications. As a concrete example, I will consider the problem of optimal data acquisition, a challenge which arises in active learning, optimal sensing and experimental design. Based on information theoretic foundations, and equipped with tools from submodular optimization theory, I will present a rigorous analysis of the widely-used sequential information maximization policy (also known as the information-gain heuristic). Our analysis establishes conditions under which this policy provably works near-optimally and identifies situations where the policy fails. In the latter case, our framework suggests novel, efficient surrogate objectives and algorithms that outperform classical techniques.
Hamed Hassani is a post-doctoral scholar at the Institute for Machine Learning at ETH Zurich. He received a Ph.D. degree in Computer and Communication Sciences from EPFL, Lausanne. Prior to that, he received a B.Sc. degree in Electrical Engineering and a B.Sc. degree in Mathematics from Sharif University of Technology, Tehran. Hamed's fields of interest include machine learning, coding and information theory as well as theory and applications of graphical models. He is the recipient of the 2014 IEEE Information Theory Society Thomas M. Cover Dissertation Award. His co-authored paper at NIPS 2015 was selected for an oral (plenary) presentation, and his co-authored paper at ISIT 2015 received the IEEE Jack Keil Wolf ISIT Student Paper Award