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Scalable Kernel K-Means Clustering with Nystrom Approximation: Relative-Error Bounds

Shusen Wang, Alex Gittens, Michael W. Mahoney; 20(12):1−49, 2019.


Kernel $k$-means clustering can correctly identify and extract a far more varied collection of cluster structures than the linear $k$-means clustering algorithm. However, kernel $k$-means clustering is computationally expensive when the non-linear feature map is high-dimensional and there are many input points. Kernel approximation, e.g., the Nystrom method, has been applied in previous works to approximately solve kernel learning problems when both of the above conditions are present. This work analyzes the application of this paradigm to kernel $k$-means clustering, and shows that applying the linear $k$-means clustering algorithm to $\frac{k}{\epsilon} (1 + o(1))$ features constructed using a so-called rank-restricted Nystrom approximation results in cluster assignments that satisfy a $1 + \epsilon$ approximation ratio in terms of the kernel $k$-means cost function, relative to the guarantee provided by the same algorithm without the use of the Nystrom method. As part of the analysis, this work establishes a novel $1 + \epsilon$ relative-error trace norm guarantee for low-rank approximation using the rank-restricted Nystrom approximation. Empirical evaluations on the $8.1$ million instance MNIST8M dataset demonstrate the scalability and usefulness of kernel $k$-means clustering with Nystrom approximation. This work argues that spectral clustering using Nystrom approximation---a popular and computationally efficient, but theoretically unsound approach to non-linear clustering---should be replaced with the efficient and theoretically sound combination of kernel $k$-means clustering with Nystrom approximation. The superior performance of the latter approach is empirically verified.

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