A Spectral Algorithm for List-Decodable Covariance Estimation in Relative Frobenius Norm

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 36 (NeurIPS 2023) Main Conference Track

Bibtex Paper


Ilias Diakonikolas, Daniel Kane, Jasper Lee, Ankit Pensia, Thanasis Pittas


We study the problem of list-decodable Gaussian covariance estimation. Given a multiset $T$ of $n$ points in $\mathbb{R}^d$ such that an unknown $\alpha<1/2$ fraction of points in $T$ are i.i.d. samples from an unknown Gaussian $\mathcal{N}(\mu, \Sigma)$, the goal is to output a list of $O(1/\alpha)$ hypotheses at least one of which is close to $\Sigma$ in relative Frobenius norm. Our main result is a $\mathrm{poly}(d,1/\alpha)$ sample and time algorithm for this task that guarantees relative Frobenius norm error of $\mathrm{poly}(1/\alpha)$. Importantly, our algorithm relies purely on spectral techniques. As a corollary, we obtain an efficient spectral algorithm for robust partial clustering of Gaussian mixture models (GMMs) --- a key ingredient in the recent work of [BakDJKKV22] on robustly learning arbitrary GMMs. Combined with the other components of [BakDJKKV22], our new method yields the first Sum-of-Squares-free algorithm for robustly learning GMMs, resolving an open problem proposed by Vempala and Kothari. At the technical level, we develop a novel multi-filtering method for list-decodable covariance estimation that may be useful in other settings.