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  1. Hierarchical clustering is a critical task in numerous domains. Many approaches are based on heuristics and the properties of the resulting clusterings are studied post hoc. However, in several applications, there is a natural cost function that can be used to characterize the quality of the clustering. In those cases, hierarchical clustering can be seen as a combinatorial optimization problem. To that end, we introduce a new approach based on A* search. We overcome the prohibitively large search space by combining A* with a novel \emph{trellis} data structure. This combination results in an exact algorithm that scales beyond previous statemore »of the art, from a search space with 10^12 trees to 10^15 trees, and an approximate algorithm that improves over baselines, even in enormous search spaces that contain more than 10^1000 trees. We empirically demonstrate that our method achieves substantially higher quality results than baselines for a particle physics use case and other clustering benchmarks. We describe how our method provides significantly improved theoretical bounds on the time and space complexity of A* for clustering.« less
  2. For many classic structured prediction problems, probability distributions over the dependent variables can be efficiently computed using widely-known algorithms and data structures (such as forward-backward, and its corresponding trellis for exact probability distributions in Markov models). However, we know of no previ- ous work studying efficient representations of exact distributions over clusterings. This paper presents definitions and proofs for a dynamic-programming inference procedure that computes the partition function, the marginal probability of a cluster, and the MAP clustering—all exactly. Rather than the N th Bell number, these exact solutions take time and space proportional to the substantially smaller powerset ofmore »N . Indeed, we improve upon the time complexity of the algorithm introduced by Kohonen and Corander [11] for this problem by a factor of N. While still large, this previously unknown result is intellectually interesting in its own right, makes feasible exact inference for important real-world small data applications (such as medicine), and provides a natural stepping stone towards sparse-trellis approximations that enable further scalability (which we also explore). In experi- ments, we demonstrate the superiority of our approach over approximate methods in analyzing real-world gene expression data used in cancer treatment.« less