This talk provides an overview of how one may employ importance sampling effectively as a tool for solving stochastic optimization formulations incorporating tail risk measures such as Conditional Value-at-Risk. Approximating the tail risk measure by its sample average approximation, while appealing due to its simplicity and universality in use, requires a large number of samples to be able to arrive at risk-minimizing decisions with high confidence. This is primarily due to the rarity with which the relevant tail events get observed in the samples. In simulation, Importance Sampling is among the most prominent methods for substantially reducing the sample requirement while estimating probabilities of rare events. Can importance sampling be used for optimization as well? If so, what are the ingredients required for making importance sampling an effective tool for optimization formulations involving rare events? We provide an introductory overview of the two key ingredients in this regard, namely, (i) how one may arrive at a change of measure prescription at every decision, and (ii) the prominent techniques available for integrating such a prescription within a solution paradigm for stochastic optimization formulations.
The talk is based on several joint works with Karthyek Murthy.