An algorithm that performs sparse linear discriminant analysis (Sparse-LDA) finds near-optimal solutions in far less time than the prior art when specialized to binary classification (of 2 classes). Sparse-LDA is a type of feature- or variable-selection problem with numerous applications in statistics, machine learning, computer vision, computational finance, operations research, and bioinformatics. Because of its combinatorial nature, feature- or variable-selection problems are “NP-hard” or computationally intractable in cases involving more than 30 variables or features. Therefore, one typically seeks approximate solutions by means of greedy search algorithms.

The prior Sparse-LDA algorithm was a greedy algorithm that considered the best variable or feature to add/delete to/from its subsets in order to maximally discriminate between multiple classes of data. The present algorithm is designed for the special but prevalent case of “2-class” or binary classification (e.g. 1 vs. 0, functioning vs. malfunctioning, or change versus no change). The present algorithm provides near-optimal solutions on large real-world datasets having hundreds or even thousands of variables or features (e.g. selecting the fewest wavelength bands in a hyperspectral sensor to do terrain classification) and does so in typical computation times of minutes as compared to days or weeks as taken by the prior art.

Sparse LDA requires solving generalized eigenvalue problems for a large number of variable subsets (represented by the submatrices of the input within-class and between-class covariance matrices). In the general (full-rank) case, the amount of computation scales at least cubically with the number of variables and thus the size of the problems that can be solved is limited accordingly. However, in binary classification, the principal eigenvalues can be found using a special analytic formula, without resorting to costly iterative techniques. The present algorithm exploits this analytic form along with the inherent sequential nature of greedy search itself. Together this enables the use of highly-efficient partitioned-matrix-inverse techniques that result in large speedups of computation in both the forward-selection and backward-elimination stages of greedy algorithms in general.

This work was done by Baback Moghaddam of Caltech for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

The software used in this innovation is available for commercial licensing. Please contact Daniel Broderick of the California Institute of Technology at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Refer to NPO-45333.

NASA Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the May, 2010 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

Read more articles from this issue here.

Read more articles from the archives here.