Price of Correlations in Stochastic Optimization
When decisions are made in the presence of high-dimensional stochastic data, handling joint distribution of correlated random variables can present a formidable task, both in terms of sampling and estimation as well as algorithmic complexity. A common heuristic is to estimate only marginal distributions and substitute joint distribution by independent (product) distribution. In this paper, we study possible loss incurred on ignoring correlations through a distributionally robust stochastic programming model, and we quantify that loss as price of correlations (POC). Using techniques of cost sharing from game theory, we identify a wide class of problems for which POC has a small upper bound. To our interest, this class will include many stochastic convex programs, uncapacitated facility location, Steiner tree, and submodular functions, suggesting that the intuitive approach of assuming independent distribution acceptably approximates the robust model for these stochastic optimization problems. Additionally, we demonstrate hardness of bounding POC via examples of subadditive and supermodular functions that have large POC. We find that our results are also useful for solving many deterministic optimization problems like welfare maximization, k-dimensional matching, and transportation problems, under certain conditions.