Optimal Detection of Random Walks on Graphs: Performance Analysis via Statistical Physics


We study the problem of detecting a random walk on a graph from a sequence of noisy measurements at every node. There are two hypotheses: either every observation is just meaningless zero-mean Gaussian noise, or at each time step exactly one node has an elevated mean, with its location following a random walk on the graph over time. We want to exploit knowledge of the graph structure and random walk parameters (specified by a Markov chain transition matrix) to detect a possibly very weak signal. The optimal detector is easily derived, and we focus on the harder problem of characterizing its performance through the (type-II) error exponent: the decay rate of the miss probability under a false alarm constraint.
The expression for the error exponent resembles the free energy of a spin glass in statistical physics, and we borrow techniques from that field to develop a lower bound. Our fully rigorous analysis uses large deviations theory to show that the lower bound exhibits a phase transition: strong performance is only guaranteed when the signal-to-noise ratio exceeds twice the entropy rate of the random walk.
Monte Carlo simulations show that the lower bound fully captures the behavior of the true exponent.


Last updated on 08/22/2019