The Noisy Power Method: A Meta Algorithm with Applications

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 27 (NIPS 2014)

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Moritz Hardt, Eric Price


We provide a new robust convergence analysis of the well-known power method for computing the dominant singular vectors of a matrix that we call noisy power method. Our result characterizes the convergence behavior of the algorithm when a large amount noise is introduced after each matrix-vector multiplication. The noisy power method can be seen as a meta-algorithm that has recently found a number of important applications in a broad range of machine learning problems including alternating minimization for matrix completion, streaming principal component analysis (PCA), and privacy-preserving spectral analysis. Our general analysis subsumes several existing ad-hoc convergence bounds and resolves a number of open problems in multiple applications. A recent work of Mitliagkas et al.~(NIPS 2013) gives a space-efficient algorithm for PCA in a streaming model where samples are drawn from a spiked covariance model. We give a simpler and more general analysis that applies to arbitrary distributions. Moreover, even in the spiked covariance model our result gives quantitative improvements in a natural parameter regime. As a second application, we provide an algorithm for differentially private principal component analysis that runs in nearly linear time in the input sparsity and achieves nearly tight worst-case error bounds. Complementing our worst-case bounds, we show that the error dependence of our algorithm on the matrix dimension can be replaced by an essentially tight dependence on the coherence of the matrix. This result resolves the main problem left open by Hardt and Roth (STOC 2013) and leads to strong average-case improvements over the optimal worst-case bound.