Statistical optimal transport via factored couplings

Aden Forrow, Jan Christian Hütter, Mor Nitzan, Philippe Rigollet, Geoffrey Schiebinger, Jonathan Weed

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review

17 Scopus citations


We propose a new method to estimate Wasserstein distances and optimal transport plans between two probability distributions from samples in high dimension. Unlike plug-in rules that simply replace the true distributions by their empirical counterparts, our method promotes couplings with low transport rank, a new structural assumption that is similar to the nonnegative rank of a matrix. Regularizing based on this assumption leads to drastic improvements on high-dimensional data for various tasks, including domain adaptation in single-cell RNA sequencing data. These findings are supported by a theoretical analysis that indicates that the transport rank is key in overcoming the curse of dimensionality inherent to data-driven optimal transport.

Original languageAmerican English
StatePublished - 2020
Externally publishedYes
Event22nd International Conference on Artificial Intelligence and Statistics, AISTATS 2019 - Naha, Japan
Duration: 16 Apr 201918 Apr 2019


Conference22nd International Conference on Artificial Intelligence and Statistics, AISTATS 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
M.N. is supported by the James S. McDonnell Foundation, Schmidt Futures, Israel Council for Higher Education, and the John Harvard Distinguished Science Fellows Program; P.R. by NSF grants DMS-1712596 and TRIPODS-1740751 and IIS-1838071, ONR grant N00014-17-1-2147, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative DAF 2018-182642, and the MIT Skoltech Seed Fund; G.S. by a Burroughs Welcome Fund Career Award at the Scientific Interface and the Klarman Cell Observatory; and J.W. by the Josephine de Karman fellowship.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 by the author(s).


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