Tight bounds on ℓ1 approximation and learning of self-bounding functions

Vitaly Feldman, Pravesh Kothari, Jan Vondrák

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


We study the complexity of learning and approximation of self-bounding functions over the uniform distribution on the Boolean hypercube {0,1}n. Informally, a function f:{0,1}n→R is self-bounding if for every x∈{0,1}n, f(x) upper bounds the sum of all the n marginal decreases in the value of the function at x. Self-bounding functions include such well-known classes of functions as submodular and fractionally-subadditive (XOS) functions. They were introduced by Boucheron et al. (2010) in the context of concentration of measure inequalities. Our main result is a nearly tight ℓ1-approximation of self-bounding functions by low-degree juntas. Specifically, all self-bounding functions can be ϵ-approximated in ℓ1 by a polynomial of degree O˜(1/ϵ) over 2O˜(1/ϵ) variables. We show that both the degree and junta-size are optimal up to logarithmic terms. Previous techniques considered stronger ℓ2 approximation and proved nearly tight bounds of Θ(1/ϵ2) on the degree and 2Θ(1/ϵ2) on the number of variables. Our bounds rely on the analysis of noise stability of self-bounding functions together with a stronger connection between noise stability and ℓ1 approximation by low-degree polynomials. This technique can also be used to get tighter bounds on ℓ1 approximation by low-degree polynomials and a faster learning algorithm for halfspaces. These results lead to improved and in several cases almost tight bounds for PAC and agnostic learning of self-bounding functions relative to the uniform distribution. In particular, assuming hardness of learning juntas, we show that PAC and agnostic learning of self-bounding functions have complexity of nΘ˜(1/ϵ).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)86-98
Number of pages13
JournalTheoretical Computer Science
StatePublished - Feb 12 2020
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Theoretical Computer Science
  • General Computer Science


  • Fourier analysis
  • Noise stability
  • PAC learning
  • Polynomial approximation
  • Submodular function
  • XOS function


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