A Direct tilde{O}(1/epsilon) Iteration Parallel Algorithm for Optimal Transport

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 32 (NeurIPS 2019)

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Arun Jambulapati, Aaron Sidford, Kevin Tian


Optimal transportation, or computing the Wasserstein or ``earth mover's'' distance between two $n$-dimensional distributions, is a fundamental primitive which arises in many learning and statistical settings. We give an algorithm which solves the problem to additive $\epsilon$ accuracy with $\tilde{O}(1/\epsilon)$ parallel depth and $\tilde{O}\left(n^2/\epsilon\right)$ work. \cite{BlanchetJKS18, Quanrud19} obtained this runtime through reductions to positive linear programming and matrix scaling. However, these reduction-based algorithms use subroutines which may be impractical due to requiring solvers for second-order iterations (matrix scaling) or non-parallelizability (positive LP). Our methods match the previous-best work bounds by \cite{BlanchetJKS18, Quanrud19} while either improving parallelization or removing the need for linear system solves, and improve upon the previous best first-order methods running in time $\tilde{O}(\min(n^2 / \epsilon^2, n^{2.5} / \epsilon))$ \cite{DvurechenskyGK18, LinHJ19}. We obtain our results by a primal-dual extragradient method, motivated by recent theoretical improvements to maximum flow \cite{Sherman17}.