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Tensors, which provide a powerful and flexible model for representing multi-attribute data and multi-way interactions, play an indispensable role in modern data science across various fields in science and engineering. A fundamental task is to faithfully recover the tensor from highly incomplete measurements in a statistically and computationally efficient manner. Harnessing the low-rank structure of tensors in the Tucker decomposition, this paper develops a scaled gradient descent (ScaledGD) algorithm to directly recover the tensor factors with tailored spectral initializations, and shows that it provably converges at a linear rate independent of the condition number of the ground truth tensor for two canonical problems -- tensor completion and tensor regression -- as soon as the sample size is above the order of $n^{3/2}$ ignoring other dependencies, where $n$ is the dimension of the tensor. This leads to an extremely scalable approach to low-rank tensor estimation compared with prior art, which suffers from at least one of the following drawbacks: extreme sensitivity to ill-conditioning, high per-iteration costs in terms of memory and computation, or poor sample complexity guarantees. To the best of our knowledge, ScaledGD is the first algorithm that achieves near-optimal statistical and computational complexities simultaneously for low-rank tensor completion with the Tucker decomposition. Our algorithm highlights the power of appropriate preconditioning in accelerating nonconvex statistical estimation, where the iteration-varying preconditioners promote desirable invariance properties of the trajectory with respect to the underlying symmetry in low-rank tensor factorization.

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