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# Fundamental Limits of Weak Recovery with Applications to Phase Retrieval

*Proceedings of the 31st Conference On Learning Theory*, PMLR 75:1445-1450, 2018.

#### Abstract

In phase retrieval we want to recover an unknown signal $\boldsymbol x\in\mathbb C^d$ from $n$ quadratic measurements of the form $y_i = |⟨\boldsymbol a_i,\boldsymbol x⟩|^2+w_i$ where $\boldsymbol a_i\in \mathbb C^d$ are known sensing vectors and $w_i$ is measurement noise. We ask the following \emph{weak recovery} question: what is the minimum number of measurements $n$ needed to produce an estimator $\hat{\boldsymbol x}(\boldsymbol y)$ that is positively correlated with the signal $\boldsymbol x$? We consider the case of Gaussian vectors $\boldsymbol a_i$. We prove that – in the high-dimensional limit – a sharp phase transition takes place, and we locate the threshold in the regime of vanishingly small noise. For $n\le d-o(d)$ no estimator can do significantly better than random and achieve a strictly positive correlation. For $n\ge d+o(d)$ a simple spectral estimator achieves a positive correlation. Surprisingly, numerical simulations with the same spectral estimator demonstrate promising performance with realistic sensing matrices. Spectral methods are used to initialize non-convex optimization algorithms in phase retrieval, and our approach can boost the performance in this setting as well. Our impossibility result is based on classical information-theory arguments. The spectral algorithm computes the leading eigenvector of a weighted empirical covariance matrix. We obtain a sharp characterization of the spectral properties of this random matrix using tools from free probability and generalizing a recent result by Lu and Li. Both the upper and lower bound generalize beyond phase retrieval to measurements $y_i$ produced according to a generalized linear model. As a byproduct of our analysis, we compare the threshold of the proposed spectral method with that of a message passing algorithm.