Which graphical models are difficult to learn?

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 22 (NIPS 2009)

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Andrea Montanari, Jose Pereira


We consider the problem of learning the structure of Ising models (pairwise binary Markov random fields) from i.i.d. samples. While several methods have been proposed to accomplish this task, their relative merits and limitations remain somewhat obscure. By analyzing a number of concrete examples, we show that low-complexity algorithms systematically fail when the Markov random field develops long-range correlations. More precisely, this phenomenon appears to be related to the Ising model phase transition (although it does not coincide with it).