Subspace Detours: Building Transport Plans that are Optimal on Subspace Projections

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 32 (NeurIPS 2019)

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Boris Muzellec, Marco Cuturi


Computing optimal transport (OT) between measures in high dimensions is doomed by the curse of dimensionality. A popular approach to avoid this curse is to project input measures on lower-dimensional subspaces (1D lines in the case of sliced Wasserstein distances), solve the OT problem between these reduced measures, and settle for the Wasserstein distance between these reductions, rather than that between the original measures. This approach is however difficult to extend to the case in which one wants to compute an OT map (a Monge map) between the original measures. Since computations are carried out on lower-dimensional projections, classical map estimation techniques can only produce maps operating in these reduced dimensions. We propose in this work two methods to extrapolate, from an transport map that is optimal on a subspace, one that is nearly optimal in the entire space. We prove that the best optimal transport plan that takes such "subspace detours" is a generalization of the Knothe-Rosenblatt transport. We show that these plans can be explicitly formulated when comparing Gaussian measures (between which the Wasserstein distance is commonly referred to as the Bures or Fr├ęchet distance). We provide an algorithm to select optimal subspaces given pairs of Gaussian measures, and study scenarios in which that mediating subspace can be selected using prior information. We consider applications to semantic mediation between elliptic word embeddings and domain adaptation with Gaussian mixture models.