List-Decodable Mean Estimation via Iterative Multi-Filtering

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 33 (NeurIPS 2020)

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Ilias Diakonikolas, Daniel Kane, Daniel Kongsgaard


We study the problem of {\em list-decodable mean estimation} for bounded covariance distributions. Specifically, we are given a set $T$ of points in $\R^d$ with the promise that an unknown $\alpha$-fraction of points in $T$, where $0< \alpha < 1/2$, are drawn from an unknown mean and bounded covariance distribution $D$, and no assumptions are made on the remaining points. The goal is to output a small list of hypothesis vectors such that at least one of them is close to the mean of $D$. We give the first practically viable estimator for this problem. In more detail, our algorithm is sample and computationally efficient, and achieves information-theoretically near-optimal error. While the only prior algorithm for this setting inherently relied on the ellipsoid method, our algorithm is iterative and only uses spectral techniques. Our main technical innovation is the design of a soft outlier removal procedure for high-dimensional heavy-tailed datasets with a majority of outliers.