Improving approximate optimal transport distances using quantization

*Beugnot, Gaspard*, Genevay, Aude, Greenewald, Kristjan, and Solomon, Justin

*In Proceedings of the Thirty-Seventh Conference on Uncertainty in Artificial Intelligence* 27–30 jul 2021

Optimal transport (OT) is a popular tool in machine learning to compare probability measures geometrically, but it comes with substantial computational burden. Linear programming algorithms for computing OT distances scale cubically in the size of the input, making OT impractical in the large-sample regime. We introduce a practical algorithm, which relies on a quantization step, to estimate OT distances between measures given cheap sample access. We also provide a variant of our algorithm to improve the performance of approximate solvers, focusing on those for entropy-regularized transport. We give theoretical guarantees on the benefits of this quantization step and display experiments showing that it behaves well in practice, providing a practical approximation algorithm that can be used as a drop-in replacement for existing OT estimators.