Friday, November 06, 2015

Thesis: Statistical physics and approximate message-passing algorithms for sparse linear estimation problems in signal processing and coding theory, Jean Barbier

On top of a very nice thesis defense, Jean went the extra mile to satisfy the hunger of the audience afterwards. In fact, it seemed to me that a large part of the ingredient list would essentially be prohibited on US campuses :-) Congratulations Jean !

Statistical physics and approximate message-passing algorithms for sparse linear estimation problems in signal processing and coding theory by Jean Barbier

This thesis is interested in the application of statistical physics methods and inference to sparse linear estimation problems. The main tools are the graphical models and approximate message-passing algorithm together with the cavity method. We will also use the replica method of statistical physics of disordered systems which allows to associate to the studied problems a cost function referred as the potential of free entropy in physics. It allows to predict the different phases of typical complexity of the problem as a function of external parameters such as the noise level or the number of measurements one has about the signal: the inference can be typically easy, hard or impossible. We will see that the hard phase corresponds to a regime of coexistence of the actual solution together with another unwanted solution of the message passing equations. In this phase, it represents a metastable state which is not the true equilibrium solution. This phenomenon can be linked to supercooled water blocked in the liquid state below its freezing critical temperature. We will use a method that allows to overcome the metastability mimicing the strategy adopted by nature itself for supercooled water: the nucleation and spatial coupling. In supercooled water, a weak localized perturbation is enough to create a crystal nucleus that will propagate in all the medium thanks to the physical couplings between closeby atoms. The same process will help the algorithm to find the signal, thanks to the introduction of a nucleus containing local information about the signal. It will then spread as a "reconstruction wave" similar to the crystal in the water. After an introduction to statistical inference and sparse linear estimation, we will introduce the necessary tools. Then we will move to applications of these notions to signal processing and coding theory problems.

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