NeurIPS 2023
Conference paper

A Spectral Algorithm for List-Decodable Covariance Estimation in Relative Frobenius Norm

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We study the problem of list-decodable Gaussian covariance estimation. Given a multiset $T$ of $n$ points in $\mathbb{R}^d$ such that an unknown $\alpha\leq 1/2$ fraction of points in $T$ are i.i.d. samples from an unknown Gaussian $\mathcal{N}(\mu, \Sigma)$, the goal is to output a list of $O(1/\alpha)$ hypotheses at least one of which is close to $\Sigma$ in relative Frobenius norm. Our main result is a $\mathrm{poly}(d,1/\alpha)$ sample and time algorithm for this task that guarantees relative Frobenius norm error of $\mathrm{poly}(1/\alpha)$. Importantly, our algorithm relies purely on spectral techniques. As a corollary, we obtain an efficient spectral algorithm for robust partial clustering of Gaussian mixture models (GMMs) --- a key ingredient in the recent work of [BakDJKKV22] on robustly learning arbitrary GMMs. Combined with the other components of [BakDJKKV22], our new method yields the first Sum-of-Squares-free algorithm for robustly learning GMMs, resolving an open problem proposed by Vempala and Kothari. At the technical level, we develop a novel multi-filtering method for list-decodable covariance estimation that may be useful in other settings.