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# On the Complexity of Approximating Wasserstein Barycenters

*Proceedings of the 36th International Conference on Machine Learning*, PMLR 97:3530-3540, 2019.

#### Abstract

We study the complexity of approximating the Wasserstein barycenter of $m$ discrete measures, or histograms of size $n$, by contrasting two alternative approaches that use entropic regularization. The first approach is based on the Iterative Bregman Projections (IBP) algorithm for which our novel analysis gives a complexity bound proportional to ${mn^2}/{\varepsilon^2}$ to approximate the original non-regularized barycenter. On the other hand, using an approach based on accelerated gradient descent, we obtain a complexity proportional to ${mn^{2}}/{\varepsilon}$. As a byproduct, we show that the regularization parameter in both approaches has to be proportional to $\varepsilon$, which causes instability of both algorithms when the desired accuracy is high. To overcome this issue, we propose a novel proximal-IBP algorithm, which can be seen as a proximal gradient method, which uses IBP on each iteration to make a proximal step. We also consider the question of scalability of these algorithms using approaches from distributed optimization and show that the first algorithm can be implemented in a centralized distributed setting (master/slave), while the second one is amenable to a more general decentralized distributed setting with an arbitrary network topology.