Regularity as Regularization: Smooth and Strongly Convex Brenier Potentials in Optimal Transport

François-Pierre Paty (ENSAE/CREST)*, Alexandre d'Aspremont (CNRS - Ecole Normale Supérieure), Marco Cuturi (Google and CREST/ENSAE)

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Abstract: Estimating Wasserstein distances between two high-dimensional densities suffers from the curse of dimensionality: one needs an exponential (wrt dimension) number of samples to ensure that the distance between two empirical measures is comparable to the distance between the original densities. Therefore, optimal transport (OT) can only be used in machine learning if it is substantially regularized. On the other hand, one of the greatest achievements of the OT literature in recent years lies in regularity theory: Caffarelli showed that the OT map between two well behaved measures is Lipschitz, or equivalently when considering 2-Wasserstein distances, that Brenier convex potentials (whose gradient yields an optimal map) are smooth. We propose in this work to draw inspiration from this theory and use regularity as a regularization tool. We give algorithms operating on two discrete measures that can recover nearly optimal transport maps with small distortion, or equivalently, nearly optimal Brenier potentials that are strongly convex and smooth. The problem boils down to solving alternatively a convex QCQP and a discrete OT problem, granting access to the values and gradients of the Brenier potential not only on sampled points, but also out of sample at the cost of solving a simpler QCQP for each evaluation. We propose algorithms to estimate and evaluate transport maps with desired regularity properties, benchmark their statistical performance, apply them to domain adaptation and visualize their action on a color transfer task.


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