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On the Effectiveness of Persistent Homology

Renata Turkes · Guido Montufar · Nina Otter

Hall J (level 1) #337

Keywords: [ point clouds ] [ geometry of data ] [ Betti numbers ] [ convexity ] [ Curvature ] [ persistent homology ] [ topology of data ]

Abstract: Persistent homology (PH) is one of the most popular methods in Topological Data Analysis. Even though PH has been used in many different types of applications, the reasons behind its success remain elusive; in particular, it is not known for which classes of problems it is most effective, or to what extent it can detect geometric or topological features. The goal of this work is to identify some types of problems where PH performs well or even better than other methods in data analysis. We consider three fundamental shape analysis tasks: the detection of the number of holes, curvature and convexity from 2D and 3D point clouds sampled from shapes. Experiments demonstrate that PH is successful in these tasks, outperforming several baselines, including PointNet, an architecture inspired precisely by the properties of point clouds. In addition, we observe that PH remains effective for limited computational resources and limited training data, as well as out-of-distribution test data, including various data transformations and noise. For convexity detection, we provide a theoretical guarantee that PH is effective for this task in $\mathbb{R}^d$, and demonstrate the detection of a convexity measure on the FLAVIA dataset of plant leaf images. Due to the crucial role of shape classification in understanding mathematical and physical structures and objects, and in many applications, the findings of this work will provide some knowledge about the types of problems that are appropriate for PH, so that it can --- to borrow the words from Wigner 1960 --- ``remain valid in future research, and extend, to our pleasure", but to our lesser bafflement, to a variety of applications.

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