Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 34 (NeurIPS 2021)
Ziv Goldfeld, Kristjan Greenewald
Mutual information (MI) is a fundamental measure of statistical dependence, with a myriad of applications to information theory, statistics, and machine learning. While it possesses many desirable structural properties, the estimation of high-dimensional MI from samples suffers from the curse of dimensionality. Motivated by statistical scalability to high dimensions, this paper proposes sliced MI (SMI) as a surrogate measure of dependence. SMI is defined as an average of MI terms between one-dimensional random projections. We show that it preserves many of the structural properties of classic MI, while gaining scalable computation and efficient estimation from samples. Furthermore, and in contrast to classic MI, SMI can grow as a result of deterministic transformations. This enables leveraging SMI for feature extraction by optimizing it over processing functions of raw data to identify useful representations thereof. Our theory is supported by numerical studies of independence testing and feature extraction, which demonstrate the potential gains SMI offers over classic MI for high-dimensional inference.