Is Input Sparsity Time Possible for Kernel Low-Rank Approximation?

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 30 (NIPS 2017)

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Cameron Musco, David Woodruff


Low-rank approximation is a common tool used to accelerate kernel methods: the $n \times n$ kernel matrix $K$ is approximated via a rank-$k$ matrix $\tilde K$ which can be stored in much less space and processed more quickly. In this work we study the limits of computationally efficient low-rank kernel approximation. We show that for a broad class of kernels, including the popular Gaussian and polynomial kernels, computing a relative error $k$-rank approximation to $K$ is at least as difficult as multiplying the input data matrix $A \in R^{n \times d}$ by an arbitrary matrix $C \in R^{d \times k}$. Barring a breakthrough in fast matrix multiplication, when $k$ is not too large, this requires $\Omega(nnz(A)k)$ time where $nnz(A)$ is the number of non-zeros in $A$. This lower bound matches, in many parameter regimes, recent work on subquadratic time algorithms for low-rank approximation of general kernels [MM16,MW17], demonstrating that these algorithms are unlikely to be significantly improved, in particular to $O(nnz(A))$ input sparsity runtimes. At the same time there is hope: we show for the first time that $O(nnz(A))$ time approximation is possible for general radial basis function kernels (e.g., the Gaussian kernel) for the closely related problem of low-rank approximation of the kernelized dataset.