Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 30 (NIPS 2017)

*Addison Hu, Sahand Negahban*

The inverse covariance matrix provides considerable insight for understanding statistical models in the multivariate setting. In particular, when the distribution over variables is assumed to be multivariate normal, the sparsity pattern in the inverse covariance matrix, commonly referred to as the precision matrix, corresponds to the adjacency matrix representation of the Gauss-Markov graph, which encodes conditional independence statements between variables. Minimax results under the spectral norm have previously been established for covariance matrices, both sparse and banded, and for sparse precision matrices. We establish minimax estimation bounds for estimating banded precision matrices under the spectral norm. Our results greatly improve upon the existing bounds; in particular, we find that the minimax rate for estimating banded precision matrices matches that of estimating banded covariance matrices. The key insight in our analysis is that we are able to obtain barely-noisy estimates of $k \times k$ subblocks of the precision matrix by inverting slightly wider blocks of the empirical covariance matrix along the diagonal. Our theoretical results are complemented by experiments demonstrating the sharpness of our bounds.

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