Advances in metric embedding theory

Ittai Abraham*, Yair Bartal, Ofer Neiman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

56 Scopus citations


Metric Embedding plays an important role in a vast range of application areas such as computer vision, computational biology, machine learning, networking, statistics, and mathematical psychology, to name a few. The mathematical theory of metric embedding is well studied in both pure and applied analysis and has more recently been a source of interest for computer scientists as well. Most of this work is focused on the development of bi-Lipschitz mappings between metric spaces. In this paper we present new concepts in metric embeddings as well as new embedding methods for metric spaces. We focus on finite metric spaces, however some of the concepts and methods are applicable in other settings as well.One of the main cornerstones in finite metric embedding theory is a celebrated theorem of Bourgain which states that every finite metric space on n points embeds in Euclidean space with O(logn) distortion. Bourgain's result is best possible when considering the worst case distortion over all pairs of points in the metric space. Yet, it is natural to ask: can an embedding do much better in terms of the average distortion? Indeed, in most practical applications of metric embedding the main criteria for the quality of an embedding is its average distortion over all pairs.In this paper we provide an embedding with constant average distortion for arbitrary metric spaces, while maintaining the same worst case bound provided by Bourgain's theorem. In fact, our embedding possesses a much stronger property. We define the ℓq-distortion of a uniformly distributed pair of points. Our embedding achieves the best possible ℓq-distortion for all 1≤q≤∞ simultaneously.The results are based on novel embedding methods which improve on previous methods in another important aspect: the dimension of the host space. The dimension of an embedding is of very high importance in particular in applications and much effort has been invested in analyzing it. However, no previous result improved the bound on the dimension which can be derived from Bourgain's embedding. Our embedding methods achieve better dimension, and in fact, shed new light on another fundamental question in metric embedding, which is: whether the embedding dimension of a metric space is related to its intrinsic dimension? I.e., whether the dimension in which it can be embedded in some real normed space is related to the intrinsic dimension which is reflected by the inherent geometry of the space, measured by the space's doubling dimension. The existence of such an embedding was conjectured by Assouad,. 44Assouad (1983) [10] conjectured that the distortion would be a function only of the doubling dimension as well, but this stronger conjecture was disproved (Semmes, 1996) [86].and was later posed as an open problem in several papers. Our embeddings give the first positive result of this type showing any finite metric space obtains a low distortion (and constant average distortion) embedding in Euclidean space in dimension proportional to its doubling dimension.Underlying our results is a novel embedding method. Probabilistic metric decomposition techniques have played a central role in the field of finite metric embedding in recent years. Here we introduce a novel notion of probabilistic metric decompositions which comes particularly natural in the context of embedding. Our new methodology provides a unified approach to all known results on embedding of arbitrary finite metric spaces. Moreover, as described above, with some additional ideas they allow to get far stronger results.The results presented in this paper. 55This paper is a full version based on the conference papers: (Abraham et al., 2005, 2006, 2008) [1,2,5].have been the basis for further developments both within the field of metric embedding and in other areas such as graph theory, distributed computing and algorithms. We present a comprehensive study of the notions and concepts introduced here and provide additional extensions, related results and some examples of algorithmic applications.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)3026-3126
Number of pages101
JournalAdvances in Mathematics
Issue number6
StatePublished - 20 Dec 2011

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
* Corresponding author. E-mail addresses: (I. Abraham), (Y. Bartal), (O. Neiman). 1 Most of the research on this paper was carried out while the author was a student at the Hebrew University. 2 Most of the research was done while the author was supported in part by a grant from the Israeli Science Foundation (195/02) and part of the research was done while the author was at the Center of the Mathematics of Information, Caltech, CA, USA, and was supported in part by a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF CCF-0652536). 3 Most of the research on this paper was carried out while the author was a student at the Hebrew University and was supported in part by a grant from the Israeli Science Foundation (195/02). Part of the work was done while the author was a postdoctoral scholar at the NYU Courant Institute of Mathematics, and was funded by NSF Expeditions in Computing award, 2009–2010.


  • Algorithms
  • Coarse geometry
  • Dimension reduction
  • Embedding
  • Metric spaces


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