Abstract: We introduce kernel thinning, a new procedure for compressing a distribution $\mathbb{P}$ more effectively than i.i.d. sampling or standard thinning. Given a suitable reproducing kernel $\mathbf{k}$ and $\mathcal{O}(n^2)$ time, kernel thinning compresses an $n$-point approximation to $\mathbb{P}$ into a $\sqrt{n}$-point approximation with comparable worst-case integration error across the associated reproducing kernel Hilbert space. With high probability, the maximum discrepancy in integration error is $\mathcal{O}_d(n^{-\frac{1}{2}}\sqrt{\log n})$ for compactly supported $\mathbb{P}$ and $\mathcal{O}_d(n^{-\frac{1}{2}} \sqrt{(\log n)^{d+1}\log\log n})$ for sub-exponential $\mathbb{P}$ on $\mathbb{R}^d$. In contrast, an equal-sized i.i.d. sample from $\mathbb{P}$ suffers $\Omega(n^{-\frac14})$ integration error. Our sub-exponential guarantees resemble the classical quasi-Monte Carlo error rates for uniform $\mathbb{P}$ on $[0,1]^d$ but apply to general distributions on $\mathbb{R}^d$ and a wide range of common kernels. We use our results to derive explicit non-asymptotic maximum mean discrepancy bounds for Gaussian, Mat\'ern, and B-spline kernels and present two vignettes illustrating the practical benefits of kernel thinning over i.i.d. sampling and standard Markov chain Monte Carlo thinning.

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