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Robust continuous clustering

  1. Vladlen Koltunb
  1. aDepartment of Electrical and Computer Engineering, University of Maryland, College Park, MD 20740;
  2. bIntel Labs, Santa Clara, CA 95054
  1. Edited by David L. Donoho, Stanford University, Stanford, CA, and approved August 7, 2017 (received for review January 13, 2017)


Clustering is a fundamental experimental procedure in data analysis. It is used in virtually all natural and social sciences and has played a central role in biology, astronomy, psychology, medicine, and chemistry. Despite the importance and ubiquity of clustering, existing algorithms suffer from a variety of drawbacks and no universal solution has emerged. We present a clustering algorithm that reliably achieves high accuracy across domains, handles high data dimensionality, and scales to large datasets. The algorithm optimizes a smooth global objective, using efficient numerical methods. Experiments demonstrate that our method outperforms state-of-the-art clustering algorithms by significant factors in multiple domains.


Clustering is a fundamental procedure in the analysis of scientific data. It is used ubiquitously across the sciences. Despite decades of research, existing clustering algorithms have limited effectiveness in high dimensions and often require tuning parameters for different domains and datasets. We present a clustering algorithm that achieves high accuracy across multiple domains and scales efficiently to high dimensions and large datasets. The presented algorithm optimizes a smooth continuous objective, which is based on robust statistics and allows heavily mixed clusters to be untangled. The continuous nature of the objective also allows clustering to be integrated as a module in end-to-end feature learning pipelines. We demonstrate this by extending the algorithm to perform joint clustering and dimensionality reduction by efficiently optimizing a continuous global objective. The presented approach is evaluated on large datasets of faces, hand-written digits, objects, newswire articles, sensor readings from the Space Shuttle, and protein expression levels. Our method achieves high accuracy across all datasets, outperforming the best prior algorithm by a factor of 3 in average rank.


  • ?1To whom correspondence should be addressed. Email: sohilas{at}umd.edu.

Freely available online through the PNAS open access option.

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