Efficient Covariance Approximations for Large Sparse Precision Matrices

<p>The use of sparse precision (inverse covariance) matrices has become popular because they allow for efficient algorithms for joint inference in high-dimensional models. Many applications require the computation of certain elements of the covariance matrix, such as the marginal variances, which may be non-trivial to obtain when the dimension is large. This paper introduces a fast Rao-Blackwellized Monte Carlo sampling-based method for efficiently approximating selected elements of the covariance matrix. The variance and confidence bounds of the approximations can be precisely estimated without additional computational costs. Furthermore, a method that iterates over subdomains is introduced, and is shown to additionally reduce the approximation errors to practically negligible levels in an application on functional magnetic resonance imaging data. Both methods have low memory requirements, which is typically the bottleneck for competing direct methods.</p>