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I am considering the following maximization problem

$$\begin{array}{ll} \text{maximize} & \| A x - b \|_2^2\\ \text{subject to} & \| x \|_2 \leq 1\end{array}$$

For easiness, let's assume $A\in\mathbb R^{n\times p}$ is a tall matrix ($n>p$), whose rank is $p$. Note that this is not least squares, as we are seeking the maximum instead of the minimum. Intuition is that the maximum must be achieved on the boundary, i.e., when $\|x\|_2=1$.

Is this a well studied problem? Any thought?

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  • $\begingroup$ This is a good exercise. Hint: Have you tried setting up the Lagrange multiplier (aka Karush-Kuhn-Tucker) conditions for the problem? You can show that the maximum is on the boundary and find the arg max by solving an eigenvalue problem. $\endgroup$ – Brian Borchers Dec 18 '20 at 18:38
  • $\begingroup$ Thank you! If $b=0$, then the top right singular vector of $A$ is a quick solution. For $b\neq 0$, I use Lagrange multiplier ($\lambda$, for now let's switch to equality constraint for simplicity). And I get the following necessary conditions $A^\top A x + \lambda x = A^\top b$ with $\|x\|=1$. It's not obvious to me how I can transform it into an eigenvalue decomposition problem. $\endgroup$ – wolfustc Dec 18 '20 at 19:10
  • $\begingroup$ If you keep the inequality, you can use complementary slackness to show that no maximum occurs in the interior. For nonzero values of $\lambda$, the eigenvalue decomposition of $A^{T}A$ can be used to solve for $x$. $\endgroup$ – Brian Borchers Dec 18 '20 at 20:08
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Thank @Brian Borchers for your comments.

Here is my reasoning following your comments. let's assume $A$ is a tall full-column-rank matrix. This is also the actual use case of my interest. That means $(A^\top A)^{-1}$ exists. In the following, I add superscript $\ast$ to denote optimum.

By complementary slackness,

$\lambda^\ast (\|x^\ast\|^2-1) = 0$ where $\lambda^\ast \geq 0$.

By stationarity,

$(A^\top A - \lambda I) x^\ast = A^\top b$

If $x^\ast$ is in the interior, then $\lambda^\ast=0$ and $x^\ast=(A^\top A)^{-1}A^\top b$. However we know that this is the least squares solution. It cannot be the maximum. Therefore $\lambda^\ast>0$. Then $x^\ast=(A^\top A-\lambda^\ast I)^{-1}A^\top b$. In other words, we need to seek a strictly positive $\lambda^\ast$ such that $\|x^\ast\|=\|(A^\top A-\lambda^\ast I)^{-1}A^\top b\|=1$. But my question is, does this $\lambda^\ast > 0$ always exist?

An update to my answer, I found this solved question, which is totally relevant. Maximization of quadratic form over unit Euclidean sphere not centered at the origin

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  • $\begingroup$ Nice work. Such $\lambda^*>0$ will exist if the original problem is bounded, i.e. the dual problem is feasible. Finding it might not be so simple (this is actually the dual optimization problem). $\endgroup$ – iarbel84 Dec 19 '20 at 9:35
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, I also think it exists in general. But if we plot $\|(A^\top A -\lambda^\ast I)^{-1}A^\top b)\|$ against $\lambda^\ast$, there may be multiple $\lambda^\ast$ that can achieve unit norm. We will have to check which one is global maximum. $\endgroup$ – wolfustc Dec 20 '20 at 19:30

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