This paper studies the long-existing idea of adding a nice smooth function to "smooth" a non-differentiable objective function in the context of sparse optimization, in particular, the minimization of $||x||_1+1/(2\alpha)||x||_2^2$, where $x$ is a vector, as well as those of the minimization of $||X||_*+1/(2\alpha)||X||_F^2$, where $X$ is a matrix and $||X||_*$ and $||X||_F$ are the nuclear and Frobenius norms of $X$, respectively. We show that they can efficiently recover sparse vectors and low-rank matrices. In particular, they enjoy exact and stable recovery guarantees similar to those known for minimizing $||x||_1$ and $||X||_*$ under the conditions on the sensing operator such as its null-space property, restricted isometry property, spherical section property, or RIPless property. To recover a (nearly) sparse vector $x^0$, minimizing $||x||_1+1/(2\alpha)||x||_2^2$ returns (nearly) the same solution as minimizing $||x||_1$ almost whenever $\alpha\ge 10||x^0||_\infty$. The same relation also holds between minimizing $||X||_*+1/(2\alpha)||X||_F^2$ and minimizing $||X||_*$ for recovering a (nearly) low-rank matrix $X^0$, if $\alpha\ge 10||X^0||_2$. Furthermore, we show that the linearized Bregman algorithm for minimizing $||x||_1+1/(2\alpha)||x||_2^2$ subject to $Ax=b$ enjoys global linear convergence as long as a nonzero solution exists, and we give an explicit rate of convergence. The convergence property does not require a sparse solution or any properties on $A$. To our knowledge, this is the best known global convergence result for first-order sparse optimization algorithms. The Matlab codes and demos of this approach, including the original, line search, and Nesterov acceleration versions, can be found from the second author’s homepage.
Rice CAAM Report TR2012-02