On the numerical rank of radial basis function kernels in high dimension

Ruoxi Wang, Yingzhou Li, Eric Darve

Low-rank approximations are popular methods to reduce the high computational cost of algorithms involving large-scale kernel matrices. The success of low-rank methods hinges on the matrix rank of the kernel matrix, and in practice, these methods are effective even for high-dimensional datasets. Their practical success motivates our analysis of the function rank, an upper bound of the matrix rank. In this paper, we consider radial basis functions (RBF), approximate the RBF kernel with a low-rank representation that is a finite sum of separate products and provide explicit upper bounds on the function rank and the $L_\infty$ error for such approximations. Our three main results are as follows. First, for a fixed precision, the function rank of RBFs, in the worst case, grows polynomially with the data dimension. Second, precise error bounds for the low-rank approximations in the $L_\infty$ norm are derived in terms of the function smoothness and the domain diameters. Finally, a group pattern in the magnitude of singular values for RBF kernel matrices is observed and analyzed, and is explained by a grouping of the expansion terms in the kernel's low-rank representation. Empirical results verify the theoretical results.

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