Matrix factorisation and the interpretation of geodesic distance

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 34 pre-proceedings (NeurIPS 2021)

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Nick Whiteley, Annie Gray, Patrick Rubin-Delanchy


Given a graph or similarity matrix, we consider the problem of recovering a notion of true distance between the nodes, and so their true positions. Through new insights into the manifold geometry underlying a generic latent position model, we show that this can be accomplished in two steps: matrix factorisation, followed by nonlinear dimension reduction. This combination is effective because the point cloud obtained in the first step lives close to a manifold in which latent distance is encoded as geodesic distance. Hence, a nonlinear dimension reduction tool, approximating geodesic distance, can recover the latent positions, up to a simple transformation. We give a detailed account of the case where spectral embedding is used, followed by Isomap, and provide encouraging experimental evidence for other combinations of techniques.