Representative programs
Last updated: Apr 24, 2021
Here I document a very simple way to use manifoldlearning techniques to form “diverse” sets of vectors. The proposed algorithm exploits the structure of the set of vectors to form a subset that “covers” the set.
In this case, each vector represents inputoutput manipulations performed by a blackbox program (each vector represents a different program).
Introduction
We are working on a system that interacts with users to incrementally solve program synthesis problems in domains where precise specifications are very hard or otherwise impossible to give. Our proposed approach follows a divideandconquer strategy, where users gradually modify programs until a viable candidate is found. The system learns from past interactions.
Sets of programs can be infinite and may be described by both continuous and discrete parameters. Given the user’s finite lifespan, we must restrict the search space to a finite number of programs that “cover” the set of possible solutions. The question that concerns us in this document is: how do we form these finite representative sets?
We will be exploring this in a relatively simple domain where the search space is constant at every step of the synthesis: programs that manipulate oneline matplotlib programs. Each manipulation changes one of the arguments to matplotlib’s plot function. Thus, to avoid confusion we distinguish between plotgenerating programs and transformations that take programs and output programs whose output is slightly different. The following code exemplifies such relationship:


This domain is simple enough that a question arises: “could you not design by hand a goodenough sampling scheme?”. The answer is yes, we could write a good enough heuristic. But it is far more powerful in the long term to think about how computers can discover these heuristics for us.
Structurepreserving representative subsets
Plotting with tSNE shows there is a lot of structure ready to be exploited (see attached document). However, in the case of transform representatives, this structure seems difficult to be recovered by an offtheshelf clustering algorithm.
To improve the chances at forming good clusters we can instead project data with an algorithm that exploits structure. The plan is to use the geodesic distances computed by the Isomap algorithm and then apply a clustering algorithm. Then, sample one from each cluster in a way that we do not choose “close” transforms. So the proposed algorithm for choosing a set of diverse vectors is:

Apply Isomap to an initial set of vectors.

Perform clustering with the geodesic distances to find as many clusters as desired diverse vectors.

Choose a vector from each cluster to find the set of diverse vectors.
We should note that the kneighbors graph computed by Isomap invites us to frame our goal as the classic vertex cover problem. Doing so would result in loosing a lot of distancerelated information, which is why clustering with the geodesic distances is a better solution.
We first execute the algorithm on a small set of transforms with the goal of verifying the Isomap algorithm does preserve structure in this domain, and then execute on a large set of transforms to form the final representative subset.
Small execution
We begin by executing the Isomap algorithm on a small set of two hundred transforms with the goal of verifying it does preserve structure in this domain.
By plotting the graph induced by the nearest kneighbors, as formed by Isomap, we see that the structure of the transform space is recovered. In the illustration below, each circle is the representative vector of a transform (hover the mouse over the circle to see the transforms labels); the color of each circle represents which attribute the transformation is changing; note that transforms of the same attribute tend to be close and transforms which ; these two properties of the resulting graph show that nearest kneighbors geodesic distances will reflect the structure of the transform space.
Thus, we can run the clustering algorithm using the geodesic distance matrix and expect the resulting clusters to reflect the structure found by the Isomap algorithm.
The only question that remains is how should we choose from each cluster so that we do not choose “close” points which lie “near the boundary” of the clusters, as having too many close points would be redundant. We solve this with a very simple heuristic: we pick the cluster centers as representatives.
The chosen representative vectors can be seen in the graph below. We see that the representatives are scattered in the graph, so it confirms we are getting a diverse set.
Concluding remarks
To get an arbitrary number of representative vectors (instead of the number of clusters found by the algorithm) an idea is below:
 Sample subsets and choose the one whose allpairs distance list has the minimum standard deviation, so that points are not too close nor too far from each other.
Appendix.
We used the Affinity Propagation algorithm from Scikit Learn. The representatives were computed summing a lot of “outputdiffs” caused by the corresponding transform. In this case, summing the diffs instead of concatenating them resulted in a better structurepreserving graph.
The code is available at https://gitlab.com/da_doomer/programbytalking//tree/representativetransforms.