Optimal Prediction of the Number of Unseen Species with Multiplicity

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 33 (NeurIPS 2020)

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Yi Hao, Ping Li


Based on a sample of size $n$, we consider estimating the number of symbols that appear at least $\mu$ times in an independent sample of size $a \cdot n$, where $a$ is a given parameter. This formulation includes, as a special case, the well-known problem of inferring the number of unseen species introduced by [Fisher et al.] in 1943 and considered by many others. Of considerable interest in this line of works is the largest $a$ for which the quantity can be accurately predicted. We completely resolve this problem by determining the limit of estimation to be $a \approx (\log n)/\mu$, with both lower and upper bounds matching up to constant factors. For the particular case of $\mu = 1$, this implies the recent result by [Orlitsky et al.] on the unseen species problem. Experimental evaluations show that the proposed estimator performs exceptionally well in practice. Furthermore, the estimator is a simple linear combination of symbols' empirical counts, and hence linear-time computable.