On Robustness of Principal Component Regression

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

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Anish Agarwal, Devavrat Shah, Dennis Shen, Dogyoon Song


Consider the setting of Linear Regression where the observed response variables, in expectation, are linear functions of the p-dimensional covariates. Then to achieve vanishing prediction error, the number of required samples scales faster than pσ2, where σ2 is a bound on the noise variance. In a high-dimensional setting where p is large but the covariates admit a low-dimensional representation (say r ≪ p), then Principal Component Regression (PCR), cf. [36], is an effective approach; here, the response variables are regressed with respect to the principal components of the covariates. The resulting number of required samples to achieve vanishing prediction error now scales faster than rσ2(≪ pσ2). Despite the tremendous utility of PCR, its ability to handle settings with noisy, missing, and mixed (discrete and continuous) valued covariates is not understood and remains an important open challenge, cf. [24]. As the main contribution of this work, we address this challenge by rigorously establishing that PCR is robust to noisy, sparse, and possibly mixed valued covariates. Specifically, under PCR, vanishing prediction error is achieved with the number of samples scaling as r max(σ2, ρ−4 log5(p)), where ρ denotes the fraction of observed (noisy) covariates. We establish generalization error bounds on the performance of PCR, which provides a systematic approach in selecting the correct number of components r in a data-driven manner. The key to our result is a simple, but powerful equivalence between (i) PCR and (ii) Linear Regression with covariate pre-processing via Hard Singular Value Thresholding (HSVT). From a technical standpoint, this work advances the state-of-the-art analysis for HSVT by establishing stronger guarantees with respect to the ∥·∥2,∞-error for the estimated matrix rather than the Frobenius norm/mean-squared error (MSE) as is commonly done in the matrix estimation / completion literature.