Portrait of Laurent Charlin

Laurent Charlin

Core Academic Member
Canada CIFAR AI Chair
Associate Professor, HEC Montréal, Department of Decision Sciences
Associate Professor, Université de Montréal, Department of Computer Science and Operations Research


Laurent Charlin is a Canada CIFAR AI Chair and core academic member of Mila – Quebec Artificial Intelligence Institute, as well as an associate professor at HEC Montréal, the business school affiliated with Université de Montréal.

Charlin’s research focuses on developing novel machine learning models to aid in decision-making. Recent work has focused on learning from data that changes over time, and on applications in fields such as recommender systems and optimization.

He has a number of highly cited publications on dialogue systems (chatbots). He co-developed the Toronto Paper Matching System (TPMS), which has been widely used by computer science conferences for matching reviewers to papers. He has also given MOOCs, introductory talks and media interviews to contribute to knowledge transfer and improve AI literacy.

Current Students

PhD - Université de Montréal
Co-supervisor :
PhD - Université de Montréal
Master's Research - HEC Montréal
PhD - Concordia University
Principal supervisor :
PhD - Université de Montréal
Master's Research - Université de Montréal
Postdoctorate - HEC Montréal
Co-supervisor :
PhD - Université Laval
Principal supervisor :
PhD - Université de Montréal


Applying Recurrent Neural Networks and Blocked Cross-Validation to Model Conventional Drinking Water Treatment Processes
Aleksandar Jakovljevic
Benoit Barbeau
The jar test is the current standard method for predicting the performance of a conventional drinking water treatment (DWT) process and opti… (see more)mizing the coagulant dose. This test is time-consuming and requires human intervention, meaning it is infeasible for making continuous process predictions. As a potential alternative, we developed a machine learning (ML) model from historical DWT plant data that can operate continuously using real-time sensor data without human intervention for predicting clarified water turbidity 15 min in advance. We evaluated three types of models: multilayer perceptron (MLP), the long short-term memory (LSTM) recurrent neural network (RNN), and the gated recurrent unit (GRU) RNN. We also employed two training methodologies: the commonly used holdout method and the theoretically correct blocked cross-validation (BCV) method. We found that the RNN with GRU was the best model type overall and achieved a mean absolute error on an independent production set of as low as 0.044 NTU. We further found that models trained using BCV typically achieve errors equal to or lower than their counterparts trained using holdout. These results suggest that RNNs trained using BCV are superior for the development of ML models for DWT processes compared to those reported in earlier literature.
LitLLM: A Toolkit for Scientific Literature Review
Shubham Agarwal
Issam Hadj Laradji
Conducting literature reviews for scientific papers is essential for understanding research, its limitations, and building on existing work.… (see more) It is a tedious task which makes an automatic literature review generator appealing. Unfortunately, many existing works that generate such reviews using Large Language Models (LLMs) have significant limitations. They tend to hallucinate-generate non-actual information-and ignore the latest research they have not been trained on. To address these limitations, we propose a toolkit that operates on Retrieval Augmented Generation (RAG) principles, specialized prompting and instructing techniques with the help of LLMs. Our system first initiates a web search to retrieve relevant papers by summarizing user-provided abstracts into keywords using an off-the-shelf LLM. Authors can enhance the search by supplementing it with relevant papers or keywords, contributing to a tailored retrieval process. Second, the system re-ranks the retrieved papers based on the user-provided abstract. Finally, the related work section is generated based on the re-ranked results and the abstract. There is a substantial reduction in time and effort for literature review compared to traditional methods, establishing our toolkit as an efficient alternative. Our open-source toolkit is accessible at https://github.com/shubhamagarwal92/LitLLM and Huggingface space (https://huggingface.co/spaces/shubhamagarwal92/LitLLM) with the video demo at https://youtu.be/E2ggOZBAFw0.
Improving the Generalizability and Robustness of Large-Scale Traffic Signal Control
Tianyu Shi
François-Xavier Devailly
Denis Larocque
A number of deep reinforcement-learning (RL) approaches propose to control traffic signals. Compared to traditional approaches, RL approache… (see more)s can learn from higher-dimensionality input road and vehicle sensors and better adapt to varying traffic conditions resulting in reduced travel times (in simulation). However, these RL methods require training from massive traffic sensor data. To offset this relative inefficiency, some recent RL methods have the ability to first learn from small-scale networks and then generalize to unseen city-scale networks without additional retraining (zero-shot transfer). In this work, we study the robustness of such methods along two axes. First, sensor failures and GPS occlusions create missing-data challenges and we show that recent methods remain brittle in the face of these missing data. Second, we provide a more systematic study of the generalization ability of RL methods to new networks with different traffic regimes. Again, we identify the limitations of recent approaches. We then propose using a combination of distributional and vanilla reinforcement learning through a policy ensemble. Building upon the state-of-the-art previous model which uses a decentralized approach for large-scale traffic signal control with graph convolutional networks (GCNs), we first learn models using a distributional reinforcement learning (DisRL) approach. In particular, we use implicit quantile networks (IQN) to model the state-action return distribution with quantile regression. For traffic signal control problems, an ensemble of standard RL and DisRL yields superior performance across different scenarios, including different levels of missing sensor data and traffic flow patterns. Furthermore, the learning scheme of the resulting model can improve zero-shot transferability to different road network structures, including both synthetic networks and real-world networks (e.g., Luxembourg, Manhattan). We conduct extensive experiments to compare our approach to multi-agent reinforcement learning and traditional transportation approaches. Results show that the proposed method improves robustness and generalizability in the face of missing data, varying road networks, and traffic flows.
Model-based graph reinforcement learning for inductive traffic signal control
François-Xavier Devailly
Denis Larocque
Most reinforcement learning methods for adaptive-traffic-signal-control require training from scratch to be applied on any new intersection … (see more)or after any modification to the road network, traffic distribution, or behavioral constraints experienced during training. Considering 1) the massive amount of experience required to train such methods, and 2) that experience must be gathered by interacting in an exploratory fashion with real road-network-users, such a lack of transferability limits experimentation and applicability. Recent approaches enable learning policies that generalize for unseen road-network topologies and traffic distributions, partially tackling this challenge. However, the literature remains divided between the learning of cyclic (the evolution of connectivity at an intersection must respect a cycle) and acyclic (less constrained) policies, and these transferable methods 1) are only compatible with cyclic constraints and 2) do not enable coordination. We introduce a new model-based method, MuJAM, which, on top of enabling explicit coordination at scale for the first time, pushes generalization further by allowing a generalization to the controllers' constraints. In a zero-shot transfer setting involving both road networks and traffic settings never experienced during training, and in a larger transfer experiment involving the control of 3,971 traffic signal controllers in Manhattan, we show that MuJAM, using both cyclic and acyclic constraints, outperforms domain-specific baselines as well as another transferable approach.
Operational Research: methods and applications
Fotios Petropoulos
Gilbert Laporte
Emel Aktas
Sibel A. Alumur
Claudia Archetti
Hayriye Ayhan
Maria Battarra
Julia A. Bennell
Jean-Marie Bourjolly
John E. Boylan
Michèle Breton
David Canca
Bo Chen
Cihan Tugrul Cicek
Louis Anthony Cox
Christine S.M. Currie
Erik Demeulemeester
Li Ding
Stephen M. Disney … (see 62 more)
Matthias Ehrgott
Martin J. Eppler
Güneş Erdoğan
Bernard Fortz
L. Alberto Franco
Jens Frische
Salvatore Greco
Amanda J. Gregory
Raimo P. Hämäläinen
Willy Herroelen
Mike Hewitt
Jan Holmström
John N. Hooker
Tuğçe Işık
Jill Johnes
Bahar Y. Kara
Özlem Karsu
Katherine Kent
Charlotte Köhler
Martin Kunc
Yong-Hong Kuo
Judit Lienert
Adam N. Letchford
Janny Leung
Dong Li
Haitao Li
Ivana Ljubić
Sebastián Lozano
Virginie Lurkin
Silvano Martello
Ian G. McHale
Gerald Midgley
John D.W. Morecroft
Akshay Mutha
Ceyda Oğuz
Sanja Petrovic
Ulrich Pferschy
Harilaos N. Psaraftis
Sam Rose
Lauri Saarinen
Said Salhi
Jing-Sheng Song
Dimitrios Sotiros
Kathryn E. Stecke
Arne K. Strauss
İstenç Tarhan
Clemens Thielen
Paolo Toth
Greet Vanden Berghe
Christos Vasilakis
Vikrant Vaze
Daniele Vigo
Kai Virtanen
Xun Wang
Rafał Weron
Leroy White
Tom Van Woensel
Mike Yearworth
E. Alper Yıldırım
Georges Zaccour
Xuying Zhao
Throughout its history, Operational Research has evolved to include a variety of methods, models and algorithms that have been applied to a … (see more)diverse and wide range of contexts. This encyclopedic article consists of two main sections: methods and applications. The first aims to summarise the up-to-date knowledge and provide an overview of the state-of-the-art methods and key developments in the various subdomains of the field. The second offers a wide-ranging list of areas where Operational Research has been applied. The article is meant to be read in a nonlinear fashion. It should be used as a point of reference or first-port-of-call for a diverse pool of readers: academics, researchers, students, and practitioners. The entries within the methods and applications sections are presented in alphabetical order. The authors dedicate this paper to the 2023 Turkey/Syria earthquake victims. We sincerely hope that advances in OR will play a role towards minimising the pain and suffering caused by this and future catastrophes.
Predictive inference for travel time on transportation networks
Mohamad Elmasri
Aurélie Labbe
Denis Larocque
A Case Study of Instruction Tuning with Mixture of Parameter-Efficient Experts
Oleksiy Ostapenko
Lucas Caccia
Zhan Su
Nicolas Le Roux
We study the applicability of mixture of parameter-efficient experts (MoPEs) for instruction-tuning large decoder-only language models. Rece… (see more)nt literature indicates that MoPEs might enhance performance in specific multi-task instruction-following datasets. In this paper, we extend such previous results and study applicability of MoPEs in settings previously overlooked: a) with open-domain instruction-following datasets; b) with recent decoder-only models and c) with downstream out-of-distribution test sets. We build on top of LLaMA1-13B/-7B and LLaMA2-13B. We study different variants of learned routing, namely per-example routing ([PE]), and a more expensive per-token ([PT]) routing. Overall, we are unable to substantiate strong performance gains observed in related studies in our setting. We observe occasional enhancements of LLAMA2 fine-tuned on Open Platypus dataset in 0-shot SNI evaluation and TruthfulQA evaluation after fine-tuning on a subset of Flan. We shed some light on the inner workings of MoPEs by comparing different routing strategies. We find that [PE] routing tends to collapse at downstream evaluation time reducing the importance of router's application. We plan to publicly release our code.
Joint Bayesian Inference of Graphical Structure and Parameters with a Single Generative Flow Network
Tristan Deleu
Mizu Nishikawa-Toomey
Jithendaraa Subramanian
Nikolay Malkin
Generative Flow Networks (GFlowNets), a class of generative models over discrete and structured sample spaces, have been previously applied … (see more)to the problem of inferring the marginal posterior distribution over the directed acyclic graph (DAG) of a Bayesian Network, given a dataset of observations. Based on recent advances extending this framework to non-discrete sample spaces, we propose in this paper to approximate the joint posterior over not only the structure of a Bayesian Network, but also the parameters of its conditional probability distributions. We use a single GFlowNet whose sampling policy follows a two-phase process: the DAG is first generated sequentially one edge at a time, and then the corresponding parameters are picked once the full structure is known. Since the parameters are included in the posterior distribution, this leaves more flexibility for the local probability models of the Bayesian Network, making our approach applicable even to non-linear models parametrized by neural networks. We show that our method, called JSP-GFN, offers an accurate approximation of the joint posterior, while comparing favorably against existing methods on both simulated and real data.
Should We Feed the Trolls? Using Marketer-Generated Content to Explain Average Toxicity and Product Usage
Marcelo Vinhal Nepomuceno
Hooman Rahemi
Tolga Cenesizoglu
Towards Compute-Optimal Transfer Learning
Massimo Caccia
Alexandre Galashov
Arthur Douillard
Amal Rannen-Triki
Dushyant Rao
Michela Paganini
Marc'aurelio Ranzato
Razvan Pascanu
From IID to the Independent Mechanisms assumption in continual learning
Oleksiy Ostapenko
Pau Rodriguez
Alexandre Lacoste
Current machine learning algorithms are successful in learning clearly defined tasks from large i.i.d. data. Continual learning (CL) require… (see more)s learning without iid-ness and developing algorithms capable of knowledge retention and transfer, the latter can be boosted through systematic generalization. Dropping the i.i.d. assumption requires replacing it with another hypothesis. While there are several candidates, here we advocate that the independent mechanism assumption (IM) (Sch¨olkopf et al., 2012) is a useful hypothesis for representing knowledge in a form, that makes it easy to adapt to new tasks in CL. Specifically, we review several types of distribution shifts that are common in CL and point out in which way a system that represents knowledge in the form of causal modules may outperform monolithic counterparts in CL. Intuitively, the efficacy of IM solution emerges since (i) causal modules learn mechanisms invariant across domains; (ii) if causal mechanisms must be updated, modularity can enable efficient and sparse updates.
Challenging Common Assumptions about Catastrophic Forgetting and Knowledge Accumulation
Timothee LESORT
Oleksiy Ostapenko
Pau Rodriguez
Diganta Misra
Md Rifat Arefin