List-Decodable Sparse Mean Estimation via Difference-of-Pairs Filtering

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 35 (NeurIPS 2022) Main Conference Track

Bibtex Paper Supplemental


Ilias Diakonikolas, Daniel Kane, Sushrut Karmalkar, Ankit Pensia, Thanasis Pittas


We study the problem of list-decodable sparse mean estimation. Specifically, for a parameter $\alpha \in (0, 1/2)$, we are given $m$ points in $\mathbb{R}^n$, $\lfloor \alpha m \rfloor$ of which are i.i.d. samples from a distribution $D$ with unknown $k$-sparse mean $\mu$. No assumptions are made on the remaining points, which form the majority of the dataset. The goal is to return a small list of candidates containing a vector $\hat \mu$ such that $\|\hat \mu - \mu\|_2$ is small. Prior work had studied the problem of list-decodable mean estimation in the dense setting. In this work, we develop a novel, conceptually simpler technique for list-decodable mean estimation. As the main application of our approach, we provide the first sample and computationally efficient algorithm for list-decodable sparse mean estimation. In particular, for distributions with ``certifiably bounded'' $t$-th moments in $k$-sparse directions and sufficiently light tails, our algorithm achieves error of $(1/\alpha)^{O(1/t)}$ with sample complexity $m = (k\log(n))^{O(t)}/\alpha$ and running time $\mathrm{poly}(mn^t)$. For the special case of Gaussian inliers, our algorithm achieves the optimal error guarantee $\Theta (\sqrt{\log(1/\alpha)})$ with quasi-polynomial complexity. We complement our upper bounds with nearly-matching statistical query and low-degree polynomial testing lower bounds.