Solution Path of Time-varying Markov Random Fields with Discrete Regularization

We study the problem of inferring sparse time-varying Markov random fields (MRFs) with different discrete and temporal regularizations on the parameters. Due to the intractability of discrete regularization, most approaches for solving this problem rely on the so-called maximum-likelihood estimation (MLE) with relaxed regularization, which neither results in ideal statistical properties nor scale to the dimensions encountered in realistic settings. In this paper, we address these challenges by departing from the MLE paradigm and resorting to a new class of constrained optimization problems with exact, discrete regularization to promote sparsity in the estimated parameters. Despite the nonconvex and discrete nature of our formulation, we show that it can be solved efficiently and parametrically for all sparsity levels. More specifically, we show that the entire solution path of the time-varying MRF for all sparsity levels can be obtained in $\mathcal{O}(pT^3)$, where $T$ is the number of time steps and $p$ is the number of unknown parameters at any given time. The efficient and parametric characterization of the solution path renders our approach highly suitable for cross-validation, where parameter estimation is required for varying regularization values. Despite its simplicity and efficiency, we show that our proposed approach achieves provably small estimation error for different classes of time-varying MRFs, namely Gaussian and discrete MRFs, with as few as one sample per time. Utilizing our algorithm, we can recover the complete solution path for instances of time-varying MRFs featuring over 30 million variables in less than 12 minutes on a standard laptop computer. Our code is available at



View Solution Path of Time-varying Markov Random Fields with Discrete Regularization