Exponential Derivative Trick

2 minute read

The matrix exponential can appear in a variety of computational problems. Unfortunately the standard finite difference routine to obtain its derivative is often inaccurate. Using complex numbers we can do better!

Complex Step

From Ref. [1]
For normal finite difference schemes we can approximate a derivative with

with \( h\ll 1 \) . When \( F(x+h)\approx F(x)\) we run into subtraction errors. A useful trick to mitigate this, when dealing with analytic functions, is to use the complex step which is

Short proof:


Expand \(F(x+ih)\) about \(x\) using a taylor expansion

Asking what the imaginary part is to first order yields the derivative. Note that \(\text{Re}\left[F(x+ih)\right]=F(x)\), so we can obtain the function at a point and its derivative in one calculation.


Exponential Complex Step

From Ref. [2]
The same trick can be applied for matrices, particularly the exponential matrix function \(\exp(A)\). Consider the Fréchet derivative (really a directional derivative) of a function \(f(A)=\exp(A)\). The derivative of \(f\) can be approximated as

where \( (E_{ij})_{kl}=\delta_{ik}\delta_{jl} \) is the single-entry matrix. Note: Other matrices can be used for \(E\).

Python Example

Here is an example for getting the derivative at the identity. The derivative is analytic here, and is simply \(\delta_{ij}\)

import scipy.linalg as spsl
A = np.zeros([4,4],dtype=np.complex)
#derivative at i,j 
i = 1
j = 2
h = 1e-6

Ah = A.copy()
Ah[i,j]+=1j*h
mA = spsl.expm(Ah)
print("exp(A)=\n",np.real(mA),"\n d/dA_ij exp(A)=\n",np.imag(mA)/h)
#normal finite difference
Ah =A.copy()
Ah[i,j]+=h
finiteDiff = np.real(spsl.expm(Ah)-spsl.expm(A))/h
print("Finite differences:\n",finiteDiff)

Output:

exp(A)=
 [[ 1.  0.  0.  0.]
 [ 0.  1.  0.  0.]
 [ 0.  0.  1.  0.]
 [ 0.  0.  0.  1.]] 
 d/dA_ij exp(A)=
 [[ 0.  0.  0.  0.]
 [ 0.  0.  1.  0.]
 [ 0.  0.  0.  0.]
 [ 0.  0.  0.  0.]]
Finite differences:
 [[ 0.  0.  0.  0.]
 [ 0.  0.  1.  0.]
 [ 0.  0.  0.  0.]
 [ 0.  0.  0.  0.]]

While the finite difference scheme here worked, it required two matrix exponential calculations rather than one; in terms of operations the complex step method is better for larger matrices. See Ref [2] for cases in which the complex step has a lower relative error than finite difference schemes.

References

[1] Squire, William, and Trapp, George, Using complex variables to estimate derivatives of real functions, SIAM Review 40, 1998, pp. 110-112. DOI:10.1137/S003614459631241X

[2] Al-Mohy, Awad H., and Higham, Nicholas J., The complex step approximation to the Fréchet derivative of a matrix function, Numer Algor (2010) 53:133–148 DOI:10.1007/s11075-009-9323-y