Average-Case Integrality Gap for Non-Negative Principal Component Analysis

Afonso S. Bandeira, Dmitriy Kunisky, Alexander S. Wein

Montanari and Richard (2015) asked whether a natural semidefinite programming (SDP) relaxation can effectively optimize $\mathbf{x}^{\top}\mathbf{W} \mathbf{x}$ over $\|\mathbf{x}\| = 1$ with $x_i \geq 0$ for all coordinates $i$, where $\mathbf{W} \in \mathbb{R}^{n \times n}$ is drawn from the Gaussian orthogonal ensemble (GOE) or a spiked matrix model. In small numerical experiments, this SDP appears to be tight for the GOE, producing a rank-one optimal matrix solution aligned with the optimal vector $\mathbf{x}$. We prove, however, that as $n \to \infty$ the SDP is not tight, and certifies an upper bound asymptotically no better than the simple spectral bound $\lambda_{\max}(\mathbf{W})$ on this objective function. We also provide evidence, using tools from recent literature on hypothesis testing with low-degree polynomials, that no subexponential-time certification algorithm can improve on this behavior. Finally, we present further numerical experiments estimating how large $n$ would need to be before this limiting behavior becomes evident, providing a cautionary example against extrapolating asymptotics of SDPs in high dimension from their efficacy in small "laptop scale" computations.

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