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Rank optimality for the Burer-Monteiro factorization

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Rank optimality for the Burer-Monteiro factorization
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The Burer-Monteiro factorization is a classical heuristic used to speed up the solving of large scale semidefinite programs when the solution is expected to be low rank: One writes the solution as the product of thinner matrices, and optimizes over the (low-dimensional) factors instead of over the full matrix. Even though the factorized problem is non-convex, one observes that standard first-order algorithms can often solve it to global optimality. This has been rigorously proved by Boumal, Voroninski and Bandeira, but only under the assumption that the factorization rank is large enough, larger than what numerical experiments suggest. We will describe this result, and investigate its optimality. More specifically, we will show that, up to a minor improvement, it is optimal: without additional hypotheses on the semidefinite problem at hand, first-order algorithms can fail if the factorization rank is smaller than predicted by current theory.
Keywords nonconvex optimization phase retrieval low-rank matrix recovery