Revisiting Area Convexity: Faster Box-Simplex Games and Spectrahedral Generalizations

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 36 (NeurIPS 2023) Main Conference Track

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Arun Jambulapati, Kevin Tian


We investigate area convexity [Sherman17], a mysterious tool introduced to tackle optimization problems under the challenging $\ell_\infty$ geometry. We develop a deeper understanding of its relationship with conventional analyses of extragradient methods [Nemirovski04, Nesterov07]. We also give improved solvers for the subproblems required by variants of the [Sherman17] algorithm, designed through the lens of relative smoothness [BBT17, LFN18}.Leveraging these new tools, we give a state-of-the-art first-order algorithm for solving box-simplex games (a primal-dual formulation of $\ell_\infty$ regression) in a $d \times n$ matrix with bounded rows, using $O(\log d \cdot \epsilon^{-1})$ matrix-vector queries. As a consequence, we obtain improved complexities for approximate maximum flow, optimal transport, min-mean-cycle, and other basic combinatorial optimization problems. We also develop a near-linear time algorithm for a matrix generalization of box-simplex games, capturing a family of problems closely related to semidefinite programs recently used as subroutines in robust statistics and numerical linear algebra.