How to calculate partition functions using convex programming hierarchies: provable bounds for variational methods

11 Jul 2016  ·  Andrej Risteski ·

We consider the problem of approximating partition functions for Ising models. We make use of recent tools in combinatorial optimization: the Sherali-Adams and Lasserre convex programming hierarchies, in combination with variational methods to get algorithms for calculating partition functions in these families. These techniques give new, non-trivial approximation guarantees for the partition function beyond the regime of correlation decay. They also generalize some classical results from statistical physics about the Curie-Weiss ferromagnetic Ising model, as well as provide a partition function counterpart of classical results about max-cut on dense graphs \cite{arora1995polynomial}. With this, we connect techniques from two apparently disparate research areas -- optimization and counting/partition function approximations. (i.e. \#-P type of problems). Furthermore, we design to the best of our knowledge the first provable, convex variational methods. Though in the literature there are a host of convex versions of variational methods \cite{wainwright2003tree, wainwright2005new, heskes2006convexity, meshi2009convexifying}, they come with no guarantees (apart from some extremely special cases, like e.g. the graph has a single cycle \cite{weiss2000correctness}). We consider dense and low threshold rank graphs, and interestingly, the reason our approach works on these types of graphs is because local correlations propagate to global correlations -- completely the opposite of algorithms based on correlation decay. In the process we design novel entropy approximations based on the low-order moments of a distribution. Our proof techniques are very simple and generic, and likely to be applicable to many other settings other than Ising models.

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