Uniform Concentration Bounds toward a Unified Framework for Robust Clustering

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

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Debolina Paul, Saptarshi Chakraborty, Swagatam Das, Jason Xu


Recent advances in center-based clustering continue to improve upon the drawbacks of Lloyd's celebrated $k$-means algorithm over $60$ years after its introduction. Various methods seek to address poor local minima, sensitivity to outliers, and data that are not well-suited to Euclidean measures of fit, but many are supported largely empirically. Moreover, combining such approaches in a piecemeal manner can result in ad hoc methods, and the limited theoretical results supporting each individual contribution may no longer hold. Toward addressing these issues in a principled way, this paper proposes a cohesive robust framework for center-based clustering under a general class of dissimilarity measures. In particular, we present a rigorous theoretical treatment within a Median-of-Means (MoM) estimation framework, showing that it subsumes several popular $k$-means variants. In addition to unifying existing methods, we derive uniform concentration bounds that complete their analyses, and bridge these results to the MoM framework via Dudley's chaining arguments. Importantly, we neither require any assumptions on the distribution of the outlying observations nor on the relative number of observations $n$ to features $p$. We establish strong consistency and an error rate of $O(n^{-1/2})$ under mild conditions, surpassing the best-known results in the literature. The methods are empirically validated thoroughly on real and synthetic datasets.