Francesco Locatello, MSc. ETH Computer Science

“R2D2, you know better than to trust a strange computer! - cit. C3PO”

PhD Student

+41 44 632 23 74
ETH Zürich
Department of Computer Science
Biomedical Informatics Group Universitätsstrasse 6
CAB F52.2
8092 Zürich
CAB F52.2

My research lays at the intersection of convex optimization, Bayesian inference, and representation learning.

I graduated cum laude from the University of Padua in Information Engineering and then joined ETH for my master in Computer Science. During this time I became passionate about Machine Learning and I am now part of the Max Planck-ETH Center for Learning Systems, supervised by Gunnar Rätsch and Bernhard Schölkopf. I am very passionate about optimization for machine learning, causality, and unsupervised learning. Recently I've been working on improving approximate Bayesian inference and representation learning. I'm currently working part-time in Google AI as a research consultant in collaboration with ETH (MSRA).

Abstract High-dimensional time series are common in many domains. Since human cognition is not optimized to work well in high-dimensional spaces, these areas could benefit from interpretable low-dimensional representations. However, most representation learning algorithms for time series data are difficult to interpret. This is due to non-intuitive mappings from data features to salient properties of the representation and non-smoothness over time. To address this problem, we propose a new representation learning framework building on ideas from interpretable discrete dimensionality reduction and deep generative modeling. This framework allows us to learn discrete representations of time series, which give rise to smooth and interpretable embeddings with superior clustering performance. We introduce a new way to overcome the non-differentiability in discrete representation learning and present a gradient-based version of the traditional self-organizing map algorithm that is more performant than the original. Furthermore, to allow for a probabilistic interpretation of our method, we integrate a Markov model in the representation space. This model uncovers the temporal transition structure, improves clustering performance even further and provides additional explanatory insights as well as a natural representation of uncertainty. We evaluate our model in terms of clustering performance and interpretability on static (Fashion-)MNIST data, a time series of linearly interpolated (Fashion-)MNIST images, a chaotic Lorenz attractor system with two macro states, as well as on a challenging real world medical time series application on the eICU data set. Our learned representations compare favorably with competitor methods and facilitate downstream tasks on the real world data.

Authors Vincent Fortuin, Matthias Hüser, Francesco Locatello, Heiko Strathmann, Gunnar Rätsch

Submitted ICLR 2019


Abstract In recent years, the interest in \emph{unsupervised} learning of \emph{disentangled} representations has significantly increased. The key assumption is that real-world data is generated by a few explanatory factors of variation and that these factors can be recovered by unsupervised learning algorithms. A large number of unsupervised learning approaches based on \emph{auto-encoding} and quantitative evaluation metrics of disentanglement have been proposed; yet, the efficacy of the proposed approaches and utility of proposed notions of disentanglement has not been challenged in prior work. In this paper, we provide a sober look on recent progress in the field and challenge some common assumptions. We first theoretically show that the unsupervised learning of disentangled representations is fundamentally impossible without inductive biases on both the models and the data. Then, we train more than $\num{12000}$ models covering the six most prominent methods, and evaluate them across six disentanglement metrics in a reproducible large-scale experimental study on seven different data sets. On the positive side, we observe that different methods successfully enforce properties ``encouraged'' by the corresponding losses. On the negative side, we observe that in our study (1) ``good'' hyperparameters seemingly cannot be identified without access to ground-truth labels, (2) good hyperparameters neither transfer across data sets nor across disentanglement metrics, and (3) that increased disentanglement does not seem to lead to a decreased sample complexity of learning for downstream tasks. These results suggest that future work on disentanglement learning should be explicit about the role of inductive biases and (implicit) supervision, investigate concrete benefits of enforcing disentanglement of the learned representations, and consider a reproducible experimental setup covering several data sets.

Authors Francesco Locatello, Stefan Bauer, Mario Lucic, Sylvain Gelly, Bernhard Schölkopf, Olivier Bachem

Link DOI

Abstract Two popular examples of first-order optimization methods over linear spaces are coordinate descent and matching pursuit algorithms, with their randomized variants. While the former targets the optimization by moving along coordinates, the latter considers a generalized notion of directions. Exploiting the connection between the two algorithms, we present a unified analysis of both, providing affine invariant sublinear $O(1/t)$ rates on smooth objectives and linear convergence on strongly convex objectives. As a byproduct of our affine invariant analysis of matching pursuit, our rates for steepest coordinate descent are the tightest known. Furthermore, we show the first accelerated convergence rate $O(1/t^2)$ for matching pursuit and steepest coordinate descent on convex objectives.

Authors Francesco Locatello, Anant Raj, Sai Praneeth Reddy, Gunnar Rätsch, Bernhard Schölkopf, Sebastian U Stich, Martin Jaggi

Submitted ICML 2018

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Abstract We propose a conditional gradient framework for a composite convex minimization template with broad applications. Our approach combines the notions of smoothing and homotopy under the CGM framework, and provably achieves the optimal $\mathcal {O}(1/\sqrt {k}) $ convergence rate. We demonstrate that the same rate holds if the linear subproblems are solved approximately with additive or multiplicative error. Specific applications of the framework include the non-smooth minimization, semidefinite programming, and minimization with linear inclusion constraints over a compact domain. We provide numerical evidence to demonstrate the benefits of the new framework.

Authors Alp Yurtsever, Olivier Fercoq, Francesco Locatello, Volkan Cevher

Submitted ICML 2018

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Abstract Approximating a probability density in a tractable manner is a central task in Bayesian statistics. Variational Inference (VI) is a popular technique that achieves tractability by choosing a relatively simple variational family. Borrowing ideas from the classic boosting framework, recent approaches attempt to \emph{boost} VI by replacing the selection of a single density with a greedily constructed mixture of densities. In order to guarantee convergence, previous works impose stringent assumptions that require significant effort for practitioners. Specifically, they require a custom implementation of the greedy step (called the LMO) for every probabilistic model with respect to an unnatural variational family of truncated distributions. Our work fixes these issues with novel theoretical and algorithmic insights. On the theoretical side, we show that boosting VI satisfies a relaxed smoothness assumption which is sufficient for the convergence of the functional Frank-Wolfe (FW) algorithm. Furthermore, we rephrase the LMO problem and propose to maximize the Residual ELBO (RELBO) which replaces the standard ELBO optimization in VI. These theoretical enhancements allow for black box implementation of the boosting subroutine. Finally, we present a stopping criterion drawn from the duality gap in the classic FW analyses and exhaustive experiments to illustrate the usefulness of our theoretical and algorithmic contributions.

Authors Francesco Locatello, Gideon Dresdner, Rajiv Khanna, Isabel Valera, Gunnar Rätsch

Submitted NIPS 2018 (spotlight)

Link DOI

Abstract Clustering is a cornerstone of unsupervised learning which can be thought as disentangling the multiple generative mechanisms underlying the data. In this paper we introduce an algorithmic framework to train mixtures of implicit generative models which we instantiate for variational autoencoders. Relying on an additional set of discriminators, we propose a competitive procedure in which the models only need to approximate the portion of the data distribution from which they can produce realistic samples. As a byproduct, each model is simpler to train, and a clustering interpretation arises naturally from the partitioning of the training points among the models. We empirically show that our approach splits the training distribution in a reasonable way and increases the quality of the generated samples.

Authors Francesco Locatello, Damien Vincent, Ilya Tolstikhin, Gunnar Rätsch, Sylvain Gelly, Bernhard Schölkopf

Submitted Arxiv

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Abstract Variational Inference is a popular technique to approximate a possibly intractable Bayesian posterior with a more tractable one. Recently, Boosting Variational Inference has been proposed as a new paradigm to approximate the posterior by a mixture of densities by greedily adding components to the mixture. In the present work, we study the convergence properties of this approach from a modern optimization viewpoint by establishing connections to the classic Frank-Wolfe algorithm. Our analyses yields novel theoretical insights on the Boosting of Variational Inference regarding the sufficient conditions for convergence, explicit sublinear/linear rates, and algorithmic simplifications.

Authors Francesco Locatello, Rajiv Khanna, Joydeep Ghosh, Gunnar Rätsch

Submitted AISTATS 2018

Link DOI

Abstract Greedy optimization methods such as Matching Pursuit (MP) and Frank-Wolfe (FW) algorithms regained popularity in recent years due to their simplicity, effectiveness and theoretical guarantees. MP and FW address optimization over the linear span and the convex hull of a set of atoms, respectively. In this paper, we consider the intermediate case of optimization over the convex cone, parametrized as the conic hull of a generic atom set, leading to the first principled definitions of non-negative MP algorithms for which we give explicit convergence rates and demonstrate excellent empirical performance. In particular, we derive sublinear (O(1/t)) convergence on general smooth and convex objectives, and linear convergence (O(e−t)) on strongly convex objectives, in both cases for general sets of atoms. Furthermore, we establish a clear correspondence of our algorithms to known algorithms from the MP and FW literature. Our novel algorithms and analyses target general atom sets and general objective functions, and hence are directly applicable to a large variety of learning settings.

Authors Francesco Locatello, Michael Tschannen, Gunnar Rätsch, Martin Jaggi

Submitted NIPS 2017

Link DOI

Abstract Two of the most fundamental prototypes of greedy optimization are the matching pursuit and FrankWolfe algorithms. In this paper, we take a unified view on both classes of methods, leading to the first explicit convergence rates of matching pursuit methods in an optimization sense, for general sets of atoms. We derive sublinear (1/t) convergence for both classes on general smooth objectives, and linear convergence on strongly convex objectives, as well as a clear correspondence of algorithm variants. Our presented algorithms and rates are affine invariant, and do not need any incoherence or sparsity assumptions.

Authors Francesco Locatello, Rajiv Khanna, Michael Tschannen, Martin Jaggi

Submitted AISTATS 2017

Link DOI