Manifold alignment aware ants: a Markovian process for manifold extraction

Mohammad Mohammadi, Peter Tino, Kerstin Bunte

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The presence of manifolds is a common assumption in many applications, including astronomy and computer vision. For instance, in astronomy, low-dimensional stellar structures, such as streams, shells, and globular clusters, can be found in the neighborhood of big galaxies such as the Milky Way. Since these structures are often buried in very large data sets, an algorithm, which can not only recover the manifold but also remove the background noise (or outliers), is highly desirable. While other works try to recover manifolds either by pushing all points toward manifolds or by downsampling from dense regions, aiming to solve one of the problems, they generally fail to suppress the noise on manifolds and remove background noise simultaneously. Inspired by the collective behavior of biological ants in food-seeking process, we propose a new algorithm that employs several random walkers equipped with a local alignment measure to detect and denoise manifolds. During the walking process, the agents release pheromone on data points, which reinforces future movements. Over time the pheromone concentrates on the manifolds, while it fades in the background noise due to an evaporation procedure. We use the Markov chain (MC) framework to provide a theoretical analysis of the convergence of the algorithm and its performance. Moreover, an empirical analysis, based on synthetic and real-world data sets, is provided to demonstrate its applicability in different areas, such as improving the performance of t-distributed stochastic neighbor embedding (t-SNE) and spectral clustering using the underlying MC formulas, recovering astronomical low-dimensional structures, and improving the performance of the fast Parzen window density estimator.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)595-641
Number of pages47
JournalNeural Computation
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 17 Feb 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the European H2020-MSCA-ITN SUrvey Network for Deep Imaging Analysis and Learning (SUNDIAL), project ID 721463. We thank the Center for Information Technology of the University of Groningen for its support and for providing access to the Peregrine high-performance computing cluster. Furthermore, this work made use of data from the European Space Agency (ESA) mission Gaia (https://www, processed by the Gaia Data Processing and Analysis Consortium (DPAC, consortium). Funding for the DPAC has been provided by national institutions, in particular the institutions participating in the Gaia multilateral agreement.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 Massachusetts Institute of Technology.


  • Algorithms
  • Animals
  • Ants
  • Cluster Analysis


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