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TR14-166 | 8th December 2014 06:56

Weighted Polynomial Approximations: Limits for Learning and Pseudorandomness


Authors: Mark Bun, Thomas Steinke
Publication: 8th December 2014 12:18
Downloads: 1396


Polynomial approximations to boolean functions have led to many positive results in computer science. In particular, polynomial approximations to the sign function underly algorithms for agnostically learning halfspaces, as well as pseudorandom generators for halfspaces. In this work, we investigate the limits of these techniques by proving inapproximability results for the sign function.

Firstly, the “polynomial regression” algorithm of Kalai et al. (SIAM J. Comput. 2008) shows that halfspaces can be learned with respect to log-concave distributions on $\mathbb{R}^n$ in the challenging agnostic learning model. The power of this algorithm relies on the fact that under log-concave distributions, halfspaces can be approximated arbitrarily
well by low-degree polynomials. We ask whether this technique can be extended beyond log-concave distributions, and establish a negative result. We show that polynomials of any degree cannot approximate the sign function to within arbitrarily low error for a large class of non-log-concave distributions on the real line, including those with densities proportional to $\exp(-|x|^{0.99})$.

Secondly, we investigate the derandomization of Chernoff-type concentration inequalities. Chernoff-type tail bounds on sums of independent random variables have pervasive applications in theoretical computer science. Schmidt et al. (SIAM J. Discrete Math. 1995) showed that these inequalities can be established for sums of random variables with only $O(\log(1/\delta))$-wise independence, for a tail probability of $\delta$. We show that their results are tight up to constant factors.

These results rely on techniques from weighted approximation theory, which studies how well functions on the real line can be approximated by polynomials under various distributions. We believe that these techniques will have further applications in other areas of computer science.

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