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Journal of the American Mathematical Society

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ISSN 1088-6834 (online) ISSN 0894-0347 (print)

The 2020 MCQ for Journal of the American Mathematical Society is 4.83.

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Testing the manifold hypothesis
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by Charles Fefferman, Sanjoy Mitter and Hariharan Narayanan
J. Amer. Math. Soc. 29 (2016), 983-1049
Published electronically: February 9, 2016


The hypothesis that high dimensional data tend to lie in the vicinity of a low dimensional manifold is the basis of manifold learning. The goal of this paper is to develop an algorithm (with accompanying complexity guarantees) for testing the existence of a manifold that fits a probability distribution supported in a separable Hilbert space, only using i.i.d. samples from that distribution. More precisely, our setting is the following. Suppose that data are drawn independently at random from a probability distribution $\mathcal {P}$ supported on the unit ball of a separable Hilbert space $\mathcal {H}$. Let $\mathcal {G}(d, V, \tau )$ be the set of submanifolds of the unit ball of $\mathcal {H}$ whose volume is at most $V$ and reach (which is the supremum of all $r$ such that any point at a distance less than $r$ has a unique nearest point on the manifold) is at least $\tau$. Let $\mathcal {L}(\mathcal {M}, \mathcal {P})$ denote the mean-squared distance of a random point from the probability distribution $\mathcal {P}$ to $\mathcal {M}$. We obtain an algorithm that tests the manifold hypothesis in the following sense.

The algorithm takes i.i.d. random samples from $\mathcal {P}$ as input and determines which of the following two is true (at least one must be):

  1. There exists $\mathcal {M} \in \mathcal {G}(d, CV, \frac {\tau }{C})$ such that $\mathcal {L}(\mathcal {M}, \mathcal {P}) \leq C {\epsilon }.$

  2. There exists no $\mathcal {M} \in \mathcal {G}(d, V/C, C\tau )$ such that $\mathcal {L}(\mathcal {M}, \mathcal {P}) \leq \frac {\epsilon }{C}.$

The answer is correct with probability at least $1-\delta$.

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Bibliographic Information
  • Charles Fefferman
  • Affiliation: Department of Mathematics, Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey 08544
  • MR Author ID: 65640
  • Email:
  • Sanjoy Mitter
  • Affiliation: Laboratory for Information and Decision Systems, MIT, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02139
  • Email:
  • Hariharan Narayanan
  • Affiliation: Department of Statistics and Department of Mathematics, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington 98195
  • Email:
  • Received by editor(s): March 9, 2014
  • Received by editor(s) in revised form: February 3, 2015, and August 9, 2015
  • Published electronically: February 9, 2016
  • Additional Notes: The first author was supported by NSF grant DMS 1265524, AFOSR grant FA9550-12-1-0425 and U.S.-Israel Binational Science Foundation grant 2014055.
    The second author was supported by NSF grant EECS-1135843.
  • © Copyright 2016 American Mathmatical Society
  • Journal: J. Amer. Math. Soc. 29 (2016), 983-1049
  • MSC (2010): Primary 62G08, 62H15; Secondary 55R10, 57R40
  • DOI:
  • MathSciNet review: 3522608