The efficient sparse coding and reconstruction of signal vectors via linear observations has received a tremendous amount of attention over the last decade. In this context, the automated learning of a suitable basis or overcomplete dictionary from training data sets of certain signal classes for use in sparse representations has turned out to be of particular importance regarding practical signal processing applications. Most popular dictionary learning algorithms involve NP-hard sparse recovery problems in each iteration, which may give some indication about the complexity of dictionary learning but does not constitute an actual proof of computational intractability. In this technical note, we show that learning a dictionary with which a given set of training signals can be represented as sparsely as possible is indeed NP-hard. Moreover, we also establish hardness of approximating the solution to within large factors of the optimal sparsity level. Furthermore, we give NP-hardness and non-approximability results for a recent dictionary learning variation called the sensor permutation problem. Along the way, we also obtain a new non-approximability result for the classical sparse recovery problem from compressed sensing.

@article{Tillmann2015,

author = {A. M. Tillmann},

title = {{On the Computational Intractability of Exact and Approximate Dictionary Learning}},

journal = {{IEEE Signal Processing Letters}},

volume = {22},

number = {1},

pages = {45--49},

year = {2015},

note = {DOI: 10.1109/LSP.2014.2345761}

}