Yang Feng

Professor, New York Univesity


Unsupervised Federated Learning: A Federated Gradient EM Algorithm for Heterogeneous Mixture Models with Robustness against Adversarial Attacks


While supervised federated learning approaches have enjoyed significant success, the domain of unsupervised federated learning remains relatively underexplored. Several federated EM algorithms have gained popularity in practice, however, their theoretical foundations are often lacking. In this paper, we first introduce a federated gradient EM algorithm (FedGrEM) designed for the unsupervised learning of mixture models, which supplements the existing federated EM algorithms by considering task heterogeneity and potential adversarial attacks. We present a comprehensive finite-sample theory that holds for general mixture models, then apply this general theory to specific statistical models to characterize the explicit estimation error of model parameters and mixture proportions. Our theory elucidates when and how FedGrEM outperforms local single-task learning with insights extending to existing federated EM algorithms. This bridges the gap between their practical success and theoretical understanding. Our simulation results validate our theory, and demonstrate FedGrEM's superiority over existing unsupervised federated learning benchmarks.


Yang Feng is a Professor and Ph.D. Program Director of Biostatistics in the School of Global Public Health and affiliate faculty in the Center for Data Science at New York University. He obtained his Ph.D. in Operations Research at Princeton University in 2010. Feng's research interests encompass the theoretical and methodological aspects of machine learning, high-dimensional statistics, network models, and nonparametric statistics, leading to a wealth of practical applications, including Alzheimer's disease, cancer classification, and electronic health records. He has published more than 70 papers in statistical and machine-learning journals. His research has been funded by multiple grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Science Foundation (NSF), notably the NSF CAREER Award. He is currently an Associate Editor for the Journal of the American Statistical Association (JASA), the Journal of Business & Economic Statistics (JBES), and the Annals of Applied Statistics (AoAS). His professional recognition includes being named a fellow of the American Statistical Association (ASA) and the Institute of Mathematical Statistics (IMS), as well as an elected member of the International Statistical Institute (ISI).

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Headshot of Yang Feng