The task of recovering a low-rank matrix from its noisy linear measurements plays a central role in computational science. Smooth formulations of the problem often exhibit an undesirable phenomenon: the condition number, classically defined, scales poorly with the dimension of the ambient space. In contrast, we here show that in a variety of concrete circumstances, nonsmooth penalty formulations do not suffer from the same type of ill-conditioning. Consequently, standard algorithms for nonsmooth optimization, such as subgradient and prox-linear methods, converge at a rapid dimension-independent rate when initialized within constant relative error of the solution. Moreover, nonsmooth formulations are naturally robust against outliers. Our framework subsumes such important computational tasks as phase retrieval, blind deconvolution, quadratic sensing, matrix completion, and robust PCA. Numerical experiments on these problems illustrate the benefits of the proposed approach.
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