Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 28 (NIPS 2015)

*Tengyu Ma, Avi Wigderson*

This paper establishes a statistical versus computational trade-offfor solving a basic high-dimensional machine learning problem via a basic convex relaxation method. Specifically, we consider the {\em Sparse Principal Component Analysis} (Sparse PCA) problem, and the family of {\em Sum-of-Squares} (SoS, aka Lasserre/Parillo) convex relaxations. It was well known that in large dimension $p$, a planted $k$-sparse unit vector can be {\em in principle} detected using only $n \approx k\log p$ (Gaussian or Bernoulli) samples, but all {\em efficient} (polynomial time) algorithms known require $n \approx k^2 $ samples. It was also known that this quadratic gap cannot be improved by the the most basic {\em semi-definite} (SDP, aka spectral) relaxation, equivalent to a degree-2 SoS algorithms. Here we prove that also degree-4 SoS algorithms cannot improve this quadratic gap. This average-case lower bound adds to the small collection of hardness results in machine learning for this powerful family of convex relaxation algorithms. Moreover, our design of moments (or ``pseudo-expectations'') for this lower bound is quite different than previous lower bounds. Establishing lower bounds for higher degree SoS algorithms for remains a challenging problem.

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