In this paper, we study the problem of inferring time-varying Markov random fields (MRF), where the underlying graphical model is both sparse and changes sparsely over time. Most of the existing methods for the inference of time-varying MRFs rely on the regularized maximum likelihood estimation (MLE), that typically suffer from weak statistical guarantees and high computational time. Instead, we introduce a new class of constrained optimization problems for the inference of sparsely-changing MRFs. The proposed optimization problem is formulated based on the exact L0 regularization, and can be solved in near-linear time and memory. Moreover, we show that the proposed estimator enjoys a provably small estimation error. As a special case, we derive sharp statistical guarantees for the inference of sparsely changing Gaussian MRFs (GMRF) in the high-dimensional regime, showing that such problems can be learned with as few as one sample per time. Our proposed method is extremely efficient in practice: it can accurately estimate sparsely-changing graphical models with more than 500 million variables in less than one hour.
University of Southern California, Feb 2021