BIG & QUIC: Sparse Inverse Covariance Estimation for a Million Variables

The l1-regularized Gaussian maximum likelihood estimator (MLE) has been shown to have strong statistical guarantees in recovering a sparse inverse covariance matrix even under high-dimensional settings. However, it requires solving a difficult non-smooth log-determinant program with number of parameters scaling quadratically with the number of Gaussian variables. State-of-the-art methods thus do not scale to problems with more than 20,000 variables. In this paper, we develop an algorithm BigQUIC, which can solve 1 million dimensional l1-regularized Gaussian MLE problems (which would thus have 1000 billion parameters) using a single machine, with bounded memory. In order to do so, we carefully exploit the underlying structure of the problem. Our innovations include a novel block-coordinate descent method with the blocks chosen via a clustering scheme to minimize repeated computations; and allowing for inexact computation of specific components. In spite of these modifications, we are able to theoretically analyze our procedure and show that BigQUIC can achieve super-linear or even quadratic convergence rates.

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