The Informativeness of $k$-Means for Learning Mixture Models

Zhaoqiang Liu, Vincent Y. F. Tan

The learning of mixture models can be viewed as a clustering problem. Indeed, given data samples independently generated from a mixture of distributions, we often would like to find the correct target clustering of the samples according to which component distribution they were generated from. For a clustering problem, practitioners often choose to use the simple k-means algorithm. k-means attempts to find an optimal clustering which minimizes the sum-of-squared distance between each point and its cluster center. In this paper, we provide sufficient conditions for the closeness of any optimal clustering and the correct target clustering assuming that the data samples are generated from a mixture of log-concave distributions. Moreover, we show that under similar or even weaker conditions on the mixture model, any optimal clustering for the samples with reduced dimensionality is also close to the correct target clustering. These results provide intuition for the informativeness of k-means (with and without dimensionality reduction) as an algorithm for learning mixture models. We verify the correctness of our theorems using numerical experiments and demonstrate using datasets with reduced dimensionality significant speed ups for the time required to perform clustering.

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