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Ashwin Pananjady, Vidya Muthukumar, Andrew Thangaraj

We study the problem of estimating the stationary mass -- also called the unigram mass -- that is missing from a single trajectory of a discrete-time, ergodic Markov chain. This problem has several applications -- for example, estimating the stationary missing mass is critical for accurately smoothing probability estimates in sequence models. While the classical Good--Turing estimator from the 1950s has appealing properties for i.i.d. data, it is known to be biased in the Markov setting, and other heuristic estimators do not come equipped with guarantees. Operating in the general setting in which the size of the state space may be much larger than the length $n$ of the trajectory, we develop a linear-runtime estimator called \emph{Windowed Good--Turing} (\textsc{WingIt}) and show that its risk decays as $\widetilde{\mathcal{O}}(\mathsf{T_{mix}}/n)$, where $\mathsf{T_{mix}}$ denotes the mixing time of the chain in total variation distance. Notably, this rate is independent of the size of the state space and minimax-optimal up to a logarithmic factor in $n / \mathsf{T_{mix}}$. We also present a bound on the variance of the missing mass random variable, which may be of independent interest. We extend our estimator to approximate the stationary mass placed on elements occurring with small frequency in $X^n$. Finally, we demonstrate the efficacy of our estimators both in simulations on canonical chains and on sequences constructed from a popular natural language corpus.

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Mengqi Lou, Guy Bresler, Ashwin Pananjady

We study the problem of approximately transforming a sample from a source statistical model to a sample from a target statistical model without knowing the parameters of the source model, and construct several computationally efficient such reductions between statistical experiments. In particular, we provide computationally efficient procedures that approximately reduce uniform, Erlang, and Laplace location models to general target families. We illustrate our methodology by establishing nonasymptotic reductions between some canonical high-dimensional problems, spanning mixtures of experts, phase retrieval, and signal denoising. Notably, the reductions are structure preserving and can accommodate missing data. We also point to a possible application in transforming one differentially private mechanism to another.

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Mengqi Lou, Kabir Aladin Verchand, Ashwin Pananjady

Motivated by the desire to understand stochastic algorithms for nonconvex optimization that are robust to their hyperparameter choices, we analyze a mini-batched prox-linear iterative algorithm for the problem of recovering an unknown rank-1 matrix from rank-1 Gaussian measurements corrupted by noise. We derive a deterministic recursion that predicts the error of this method and show, using a non-asymptotic framework, that this prediction is accurate for any batch-size and a large range of step-sizes. In particular, our analysis reveals that this method, though stochastic, converges linearly from a local initialization with a fixed step-size to a statistical error floor. Our analysis also exposes how the batch-size, step-size, and noise level affect the (linear) convergence rate and the eventual statistical estimation error, and we demonstrate how to use our deterministic predictions to perform hyperparameter tuning (e.g. step-size and batch-size selection) without ever running the method. On a technical level, our analysis is enabled in part by showing that the fluctuations of the empirical iterates around our deterministic predictions scale with the error of the previous iterate.

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Austin Xu, Andrew D. McRae, Jingyan Wang, Mark A. Davenport, Ashwin Pananjady

We introduce a new type of query mechanism for collecting human feedback, called the perceptual adjustment query ( PAQ). Being both informative and cognitively lightweight, the PAQ adopts an inverted measurement scheme, and combines advantages from both cardinal and ordinal queries. We showcase the PAQ in the metric learning problem, where we collect PAQ measurements to learn an unknown Mahalanobis distance. This gives rise to a high-dimensional, low-rank matrix estimation problem to which standard matrix estimators cannot be applied. Consequently, we develop a two-stage estimator for metric learning from PAQs, and provide sample complexity guarantees for this estimator. We present numerical simulations demonstrating the performance of the estimator and its notable properties.

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Guanyi Wang, Mengqi Lou, Ashwin Pananjady

We study a principal component analysis problem under the spiked Wishart model in which the structure in the signal is captured by a class of union-of-subspace models. This general class includes vanilla sparse PCA as well as its variants with graph sparsity. With the goal of studying these problems under a unified statistical and computational lens, we establish fundamental limits that depend on the geometry of the problem instance, and show that a natural projected power method exhibits local convergence to the statistically near-optimal neighborhood of the solution. We complement these results with end-to-end analyses of two important special cases given by path and tree sparsity in a general basis, showing initialization methods and matching evidence of computational hardness. Overall, our results indicate that several of the phenomena observed for vanilla sparse PCA extend in a natural fashion to its structured counterparts.

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Abhishek Dhawan, Cheng Mao, Ashwin Pananjady

We consider a symmetric mixture of linear regressions with random samples from the pairwise comparison design, which can be seen as a noisy version of a type of Euclidean distance geometry problem. We analyze the expectation-maximization (EM) algorithm locally around the ground truth and establish that the sequence converges linearly, providing an $\ell_\infty$-norm guarantee on the estimation error of the iterates. Furthermore, we show that the limit of the EM sequence achieves the sharp rate of estimation in the $\ell_2$-norm, matching the information-theoretically optimal constant. We also argue through simulation that convergence from a random initialization is much more delicate in this setting, and does not appear to occur in general. Our results show that the EM algorithm can exhibit several unique behaviors when the covariate distribution is suitably structured.

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Kabir Aladin Chandrasekher, Mengqi Lou, Ashwin Pananjady

We consider the problem of estimating the factors of a rank-$1$ matrix with i.i.d. Gaussian, rank-$1$ measurements that are nonlinearly transformed and corrupted by noise. Considering two prototypical choices for the nonlinearity, we study the convergence properties of a natural alternating update rule for this nonconvex optimization problem starting from a random initialization. We show sharp convergence guarantees for a sample-split version of the algorithm by deriving a deterministic recursion that is accurate even in high-dimensional problems. Notably, while the infinite-sample population update is uninformative and suggests exact recovery in a single step, the algorithm -- and our deterministic prediction -- converges geometrically fast from a random initialization. Our sharp, non-asymptotic analysis also exposes several other fine-grained properties of this problem, including how the nonlinearity and noise level affect convergence behavior. On a technical level, our results are enabled by showing that the empirical error recursion can be predicted by our deterministic sequence within fluctuations of the order $n^{-1/2}$ when each iteration is run with $n$ observations. Our technique leverages leave-one-out tools originating in the literature on high-dimensional $M$-estimation and provides an avenue for sharply analyzing higher-order iterative algorithms from a random initialization in other high-dimensional optimization problems with random data.

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Jingyan Wang, Ashwin Pananjady

We consider the problem of sequential evaluation, in which an evaluator observes candidates in a sequence and assigns scores to these candidates in an online, irrevocable fashion. Motivated by the psychology literature that has studied sequential bias in such settings -- namely, dependencies between the evaluation outcome and the order in which the candidates appear -- we propose a natural model for the evaluator's rating process that captures the lack of calibration inherent to such a task. We conduct crowdsourcing experiments to demonstrate various facets of our model. We then proceed to study how to correct sequential bias under our model by posing this as a statistical inference problem. We propose a near-linear time, online algorithm for this task and prove guarantees in terms of two canonical ranking metrics, matched with lower bounds demonstrating optimality in a certain sense. Our algorithm outperforms the de facto method of using the rankings induced by the reported scores.

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Tianjiao Li, Guanghui Lan, Ashwin Pananjady

We study the problem of policy evaluation with linear function approximation and present efficient and practical algorithms that come with strong optimality guarantees. We begin by proving lower bounds that establish baselines on both the deterministic error and stochastic error in this problem. In particular, we prove an oracle complexity lower bound on the deterministic error in an instance-dependent norm associated with the stationary distribution of the transition kernel, and use the local asymptotic minimax machinery to prove an instance-dependent lower bound on the stochastic error in the i.i.d. observation model. Existing algorithms fail to match at least one of these lower bounds: To illustrate, we analyze a variance-reduced variant of temporal difference learning, showing in particular that it fails to achieve the oracle complexity lower bound. To remedy this issue, we develop an accelerated, variance-reduced fast temporal difference algorithm (VRFTD) that simultaneously matches both lower bounds and attains a strong notion of instance-optimality. Finally, we extend the VRFTD algorithm to the setting with Markovian observations, and provide instance-dependent convergence results that match those in the i.i.d. setting up to a multiplicative factor that is proportional to the mixing time of the chain. Our theoretical guarantees of optimality are corroborated by numerical experiments.

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Wenlong Mou, Ashwin Pananjady, Martin J. Wainwright, Peter L. Bartlett

We study stochastic approximation procedures for approximately solving a $d$-dimensional linear fixed point equation based on observing a trajectory of length $n$ from an ergodic Markov chain. We first exhibit a non-asymptotic bound of the order $t_{\mathrm{mix}} \tfrac{d}{n}$ on the squared error of the last iterate of a standard scheme, where $t_{\mathrm{mix}}$ is a mixing time. We then prove a non-asymptotic instance-dependent bound on a suitably averaged sequence of iterates, with a leading term that matches the local asymptotic minimax limit, including sharp dependence on the parameters $(d, t_{\mathrm{mix}})$ in the higher order terms. We complement these upper bounds with a non-asymptotic minimax lower bound that establishes the instance-optimality of the averaged SA estimator. We derive corollaries of these results for policy evaluation with Markov noise -- covering the TD($\lambda$) family of algorithms for all $\lambda \in [0, 1)$ -- and linear autoregressive models. Our instance-dependent characterizations open the door to the design of fine-grained model selection procedures for hyperparameter tuning (e.g., choosing the value of $\lambda$ when running the TD($\lambda$) algorithm).

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