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# Spectral Planting and the Hardness of Refuting Cuts, Colorability, and Communities in Random Graphs

*Proceedings of Thirty Fourth Conference on Learning Theory*, PMLR 134:410-473, 2021.

#### Abstract

We study the problem of efficiently refuting the k-colorability of a graph, or equivalently, certifying a lower bound on its chromatic number. We give formal evidence of average-case computational hardness for this problem in sparse random regular graphs, suggesting that there is no polynomial-time algorithm that improves upon a classical spectral algorithm. Our evidence takes the form of a "computationally-quiet planting": we construct a distribution of d-regular graphs that has significantly smaller chromatic number than a typical regular graph drawn uniformly at random, while providing evidence that these two distributions are indistinguishable by a large class of algorithms. We generalize our results to the more general problem of certifying an upper bound on the maximum k-cut. This quiet planting is achieved by minimizing the effect of the planted structure (e.g. colorings or cuts) on the graph spectrum. Specifically, the planted structure corresponds exactly to eigenvectors of the adjacency matrix. This avoids the pushout effect of random matrix theory, and delays the point at which the planting becomes visible in the spectrum or local statistics. To illustrate this further, we give similar results for a Gaussian analogue of this problem: a quiet version of the spiked model, where we plant an eigenspace rather than adding a generic low-rank perturbation. Our evidence for computational hardness of distinguishing two distributions is based on three different heuristics: stability of belief propagation, the local statistics hierarchy, and the low-degree likelihood ratio. Of independent interest, our results include general-purpose bounds on the low-degree likelihood ratio for multi-spiked matrix models, and an improved low-degree analysis of the stochastic block model.