On the Gap Between Strict-Saddles and True Convexity: An Omega(log d) Lower Bound for Eigenvector Approximation

14 Apr 2017  ·  Max Simchowitz, Ahmed El Alaoui, Benjamin Recht ·

We prove a \emph{query complexity} lower bound on rank-one principal component analysis (PCA). We consider an oracle model where, given a symmetric matrix $M \in \mathbb{R}^{d \times d}$, an algorithm is allowed to make $T$ \emph{exact} queries of the form $w^{(i)} = Mv^{(i)}$ for $i \in \{1,\dots,T\}$, where $v^{(i)}$ is drawn from a distribution which depends arbitrarily on the past queries and measurements $\{v^{(j)},w^{(j)}\}_{1 \le j \le i-1}$... We show that for a small constant $\epsilon$, any adaptive, randomized algorithm which can find a unit vector $\widehat{v}$ for which $\widehat{v}^{\top}M\widehat{v} \ge (1-\epsilon)\|M\|$, with even small probability, must make $T = \Omega(\log d)$ queries. In addition to settling a widely-held folk conjecture, this bound demonstrates a fundamental gap between convex optimization and "strict-saddle" non-convex optimization of which PCA is a canonical example: in the former, first-order methods can have dimension-free iteration complexity, whereas in PCA, the iteration complexity of gradient-based methods must necessarily grow with the dimension. Our argument proceeds via a reduction to estimating the rank-one spike in a deformed Wigner model. We establish lower bounds for this model by developing a "truncated" analogue of the $\chi^2$ Bayes-risk lower bound of Chen et al. read more

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