libSkylark documentation


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Matrix algorithms are the foundation for most methods in machine learning, data analysis, scientific computing, and engineering applications. Numerical Linear Algebra (NLA) kernels are the key enabling technology for implementing matrix algorithms across different computing platforms. Without highly efficient and scalable NLA kernels, the challenge of big data cannot be met.

The goal of Libskylark (interchageably referred to as Skylark below) is to implement sketching-based NLA kernels for distributed computing platforms, primarily with large-scale machine learning applications in mind. Sketching reduces dimensionality through randomization, and is one of only a few paradigms that have the potential to deliver a true boost in performance in the presence of massive data, for an extensive class of applications. Sketching methods have been developed, for over ten years now, mainly by the theoretical computer science community. Sketching techniques are simple to implement, readily parallelizable, and often robust to matrix sparsity patterns and other properties. Most of all, they have fast asymptotic time and space complexity. Applications in population genetics, circuit testing, social network analysis, text classification, pattern matching and other domains, have demonstrated the promise of sketching methods in practice.

Skylark is a software stack, being designed to be composed of distributed sketching-based NLA kernels, for fundamental statistical and machine learning algorithms.

The NLA kernels consist of matrix multiplication, regression, and low-rank approximation algorithms, as well as acceleration methods for nonlinear modeling (i.e., kernelized regularized least squares, multinomial logistic regression, robust regression and support vector machines), and statistical dimensionality reduction techniques. The implementations are guided by error and sensitivity analyses, to give users a high confidence assurance for the accuracy of the output of the software stack. Sketching techniques, when used in a straight-forward fashion and on their own, can deliver relatively crude, i.e. low accuracy results, since the work to achieve an error of \epsilon can be proportional to 1/\epsilon^2. Such crude results can be relevant in themselves: in ranking applications where only an ordinal rank is required rather than the exact value (PageRank, recommender systems); in situations where data noise dominates algorithmic error; or where the tradeoff between speed and accuracy favors “quick and dirty” results that can be readily refined. Also, in statistical and Machine Learning (ML) settings, approximate solutions can be regarded as a formal mechanism to avoid overfitting, that is, a form of regularization.

However, sketching techniques can also be used to precondition standard methods, so that they accelerate computations but do not suffer from loss of accuracy. libSkylark will also provide sketching techniques as preconditioners, or accelerators, to a large variety of NLA computations.

Another central goal of libSkylark is to serve as a research platform with which to determine the best sketching techniques in practice from among the many that have been proposed in the theoretical literature. This is challenging, because many sketching techniques come with error bounds that are asymptotic only, and contain unknown constants. Furthermore, a combination of criteria needs to considered: error due to randomization, numerical robustness and accuracy, matrix access patterns (rows, columns, submatrices), arithmetic operation count and communication requirements.

Sketching and Sampling Methods

A wealth of techniques have been proposed in recent years for matrix problems, based on random sampling of the input matrix via rows, columns, individual entries, or random linear combinations of rows and columns. For brevity all these techniques will be collectively called here sketching. Sketching yields “compressed” or “down-sized” versions of the input matrix, that retain enough information to either yield approximate solutions, or to speed up methods for finding high precision solutions, as discussed above.

In many situations we can represent the application of a sketching method to an n × d matrix A as a product SA, where S has s x n rows. In general, accuracy or other sketch properties vary with s. For some sketching approaches the matrix S is quite sparse, while in others it is highly structured, so that computing SA involves an FFT or similar fast transform per row of SA, and not much more. When each row of S has a single entry equal to one and all others zero, then SA represents a subset of the rows of A. That is, S is a sampling matrix. Samples SA have very desirable properties: under appropriate conditions, SA represents a collection of representative, “prototypical” rows of A, which is useful in certain data analytics applications; and if A is sparse, then SA tends to be so as well, at least heuristically.

By reducing dimensionality while still preserving structure, sketching can be used for approximately solving a whole host of NLA problems, with substantial speedups in computation time. Other benefits include reduced memory requirements, communication costs and IO overheads. This, in turn, offers the potential to significantly improve the computational efficiency of solving higher-level statistical modeling and machine learning tasks, by essentially replacing calls to traditional NLA kernels with their sketching counterparts.

libSkylark builds on high-performance Numerical Linear Algebra libraries in C++ for Dense and Sparse Matrices, with a Message Passing Interface (MPI) backend for distributed computations. Organizationally, it comprises of three layers. The core is a library of sketching transforms whose main functionality is to enable a variety of input matrix types to be sketched, using transforms specialized for various NLA kernels such as least squares (l_2) regression, robust regression (l_1) and low-rank matrix approximations. These kernels are being implemented in the Numerical Linear Algebra (NLA) layer.

The accelerated NLA kernels are then used to accelerate higher level machine learning algorithms, e.g., kernel-based nonlinear regression, matrix completion and statistical dimensionality reduction techniques such as Principal Component Analysis. We also provide Python bindings to libSkylark lower layers to enable rapid prototyping of data analysis algorithms, and exploration of the sketching design space for optimal performance in a given domain. Input matrices can also be local numpy or scipy arrays for single node execution of libSkylark. We use Python bindings for Elemental and Combinatorial BLAS (through KDT).

In the future, we also plan to support a streaming interface for out-of-core sketching and matrix computations.

Note that some of the features mentioned above are under active development and/or currently being benchmarked for performance improvements, and as such the current stack should be considered experimental.

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