I want to prove that the variance of a Gaussian Process (GP) is the lowest on any one of its $p$ training data points.

The prior distribution for a zero-mean GP prior, with kernel function $k(x, x')$ is, $$ P\left( \begin{bmatrix} y_{*} \\ Y \end{bmatrix} \right) = \mathcal{N} \left(0, \begin{bmatrix} k(x_{*}, x_{*}) & K(x_{*}, X)\\ K(x_{*}, X)^{T} & K(X, X) \end{bmatrix} \right). \,\, (1) $$ Where,

  1. $x_{*}$ is a new potentially unseen test data point.
  2. $X$ is the prior seen training data set for which corresponding labels/observations $Y$ are available. To be precise X is a matrix with the $i^{th}$ row given by data-point $x_i$.
  3. $K(x_{*}, X)$ is a $p \times 1$ row-vector with $i^{th}$ entry given by $K(x_{*}, x_i)$.
  4. $K(X, X)$ is a $ p \times p$ matrix with the $(i, j)^{th}$ entry being given by $k(x_i, x_j)$.
  5. I am not considering any observation noise in the problem which means that labels and observations are identical and given by $y$.

For the above prior distribution, the covariance of the posterior distribution over the predicted label $y_{*}$ will be, $$ \sigma_{y_{*}} = k(x_{*}, x_{*}) - K(x_{*}, X)K(X, X)^{-1}K(x_{*}, X)^{T}. \,\,(2) $$ Where I have used the formula for the covariance of a conditional multivariate normal (MVN) random variable as is done in [1].

Among other requirements, kernel functions $k$ satisfy, $k(x, x) = 1$ so $\sigma_{y_{*}}$ being minimum for seen points present in $X$ is equivalent to, $$ \arg \max_{x_{*}} K(x_{*}, X)K(X, X)^{-1}K(x_{*}, X)^{T} = x_i \, \, \forall \, i \in [p]. \,\,(3) $$

To try and prove the condition $(3)$, I have tried the following approaches,

  1. The result is clearly true for $p=1$ since then the term in $(3)$ becomes $k(x_{*}, x_1)k(x_{1}, x_{1})^{-1}k(x_{*}, x_1)$ which will be maximum when $x_{*} = x_{1}$. So I tried writing out the product in $(3)$ for the case $p = 2$ to see if I could find a reason for it being maximized on points in $X$. For $p=2$ the expression in $(3)$ was, $$ k(x_{*}, x_1)^{2} + k(x_{*}, x_2)^{2} - 2 k(x_1, x_2) k(x_{*}, x_1) k(x_{*}, x_2). $$ For this $p = 2$ case $X = [x_1^{T} \, x_2^{T}]^{T}$ and I don't see why we'll have maximums at $x_{*} = x_1$ and $x_{*} = x_2$.
  2. Next I tried putting in the RBF/Squared-Exponential kernel $k(x, x') = \exp{\left(-\frac{1}{2 l_{d}^2} (x - x') \right)}$ into the expression for $p=2$ I got above and took the derivative of the expression with respect to $x_{*}$ and set this derivative to 0. While plugging in $x_1$ and $x_2$ does make the derivative evaluate to $0$ it is not clear if those two will be the only solutions to the equation
  3. Since I could see the result holding for $p=1$ I thought of trying an inductive approach where I assume that $(3)$ holds for some $p=m$ and I attempt to extend it to $p=m+1$ by expanding $k(x_{*}, X_{p})$ to $[k(x_{*}, X_{p}) \,\, k(x_{*}, x_{p + 1})]$ and analogously expanding $K_{XX}$; however I don't think optimization problems (or at least this problem) can be fit into an inductive framework.
  4. An argument for the result is that $\sigma_{y_{*}}$ can only be a valid variance if the expression in $(2)$ $\geq 0$. This in turn requires that, $$ K(x_{*}, X)K(X, X)^{-1}K(x_{*}, X)^{T} \leq k(x_{*}, x_{*}) = 1. \,\, (4) $$ Now it easy to show that $\sigma_{y_{*}} = 0$ when $x_{*}$ is a test-point from $X$ so by (4) we get the required result of the variance being minimum and equal to $0$ on test-points. However I am discounting this argument as circular.
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ There is nothing circular about your argument 4: you've shown that a given function is nonnegative, and then you've found a point at which it takes value 0. This point is necessarily a global minimizer; it's a sound argument. Now, it does not imply that there won't be some non-training point that also has zero variance. Actually, this will be the case for certain kernels, notably tensor sum kernels. See e.g. arxiv.org/pdf/1112.4394.pdf. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 20 at 23:45

1 Answer 1


For noise free case, when $x_* = x_i$ for some i, then $k(x_*, X)$ is the $i$th column of $K(X,X)$. Thus, you obtain

$K(X,X)^{-1} k(x_i,X)^T = \mathbf{e}_i$ where $\mathbf{e}_i$ denotes a standard basis of $\mathbb{R}^N$

Thus, $\sigma_{y_*} = k(x_i , x_i) - k(x_i, X) \mathbf{e}_i = k(x_i, x_i) - k(x_i, x_i) = 0$ and this is global minimum.


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