Approximation Techniques for Stochastic Combinatorial Optimization Problems
The focus of this thesis is on the design and analysis of algorithms for basic problems in Stochastic Optimization, specifically a class of fundamental combinatorial optimization problems where there is some form of uncertainty in the input. Since many interesting optimization problems are computationally intractable (NP-Hard), we resort to designing approximation algorithms which provably output good solutions. However, a common assumption in traditional algorithms is that the exact input is known in advance. What if this is not the case? What if there is uncertainty in the input?
With the growing size of input data and their typically distributed nature (e.g., cloud computing), it has become imperative for algorithms to handle varying forms of input uncertainty. Current techniques, however, are not robust enough to deal with many of these problems, thus necessitating the need for new algorithmic tools. Answering such questions, and more generally identifying the tools for solving such problems, is the focus of this thesis. The exact problems we study in this thesis are the following: (a) the Survivable Network Design problem where the collection of (source,sink) pairs is drawn randomly from a known distribution, (b) the Stochastic Knapsack problem with random sizes/rewards for jobs, (c) the Multi-Armed Bandits problem, where the individual Markov Chains make random transitions, and finally (d) the Stochastic Orienteering problem, where the random tasks/jobs are located at different vertices on a metric. We explore different techniques for solving these problems and present algorithms for all the above problems with near-optimal approximation guarantees. We also believe that the techniques are fairly general and have wider applicability than the context in which they are used in this thesis.