Estimating the Rate-Distortion Function by Wasserstein Gradient Descent

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

Bibtex Paper Supplemental


Yibo Yang, Stephan Eckstein, Marcel Nutz, Stephan Mandt


In the theory of lossy compression, the rate-distortion (R-D) function $R(D)$ describes how much a data source can be compressed (in bit-rate) at any given level of fidelity (distortion). Obtaining $R(D)$ for a given data source establishes the fundamental performance limit for all compression algorithms. We propose a new method to estimate $R(D)$ from the perspective of optimal transport. Unlike the classic Blahut--Arimoto algorithm which fixes the support of the reproduction distribution in advance, our Wasserstein gradient descent algorithm learns the support of the optimal reproduction distribution by moving particles. We prove its local convergence and analyze the sample complexity of our R-D estimator based on a connection to entropic optimal transport. Experimentally, we obtain comparable or tighter bounds than state-of-the-art neural network methods on low-rate sources while requiring considerably less tuning and computation effort. We also highlight a connection to maximum-likelihood deconvolution and introduce a new class of sources that can be used as test cases with known solutions to the R-D problem.