The maximum likelihood estimation (MLE) for the Gaussian graphical model, which is also known as the inverse covariance estimation problem, has gained increasing interest recently. Most existing works assume that inverse covariance estimators contain sparse structure and then construct models with the l1 regularization. In this paper, different from existing works, we study the inverse co-variance estimation problem from another perspective by efficiently modeling the low-rank structure in the inverse covariance, which is assumed to be a combination of a low-rank part and a diagonal matrix. One motivation for this assumption is that the low-rank structure is common in many applications including the cli-mate and financial analysis, and another one is that such assumption can reduce the computational complexity when computing its inverse. Specifically, we propose an efficient COmponent Pursuit (COP) method to obtain the low-rank part, where each component can be sparse. For optimization, the COP method greedily learns a rank-one component in each iteration by maximizing the log-likelihood. Moreover, the COP algorithm enjoys several appealing properties including the existence of an efficient solution in each iteration and the theoretical guarantee on the convergence of this greedy approach. Experiments on large-scale synthetic and real-world datasets including thousands of millions variables show that the COP method is faster than the state-of-the-art techniques for the inverse covariance estimation problem when achieving comparable log-likelihood on test data.

Filed under: Big Data | Large Scale Machine Learning Systems