### Abstract

We study tensor networks as a model of arithmetic computation for evaluating multilinear maps. These capture any algorithm based on low-rank tensor decompositions, such as $O(n^{\omega+\epsilon})$ time matrix multiplication, and in addition many other algorithms such as $O(n \log n)$ time discrete Fourier transform and $O^*(2^n)$ time for computing the permanent of a matrix. However tensor networks sometimes yield faster algorithms than those that follow from low-rank decompositions. For instance the fastest known $O(n^{(\omega +\epsilon)t})$ time algorithms for counting $3t$-cliques can be implemented with tensor networks, even though the underlying tensor has rank $n^{3t}$ for all $t \ge 2$. For counting homomorphisms of a general pattern graph $P$ into a host graph on $n$ vertices we obtain an upper bound of $O(n^{(\omega+\epsilon)\text{bw}(P)/2})$ where $\text{bw}(P)$ is the branchwidth of $P$. This essentially matches the bound for counting cliques, and yields small improvements over previous algorithms for many choices of $P$.
While powerful, the model still has limitations, and we are able to show a number of unconditional lower bounds for various multilinear maps, including:

(a) an $\Omega(n^{\text{bw}(P)})$ time lower bound for counting homomorphisms from $P$ to an $n$-vertex graph, matching the upper bound if $\omega = 2$. In particular for $P$ a $v$-clique this yields an $\Omega(n^{\lceil 2v/3 \rceil})$ time lower bound for counting $v$-cliques, and for $P$ a $k$-uniform $v$-hyperclique we obtain an $\Omega(n^v)$ time lower bound for $k \ge 3$, ruling out tensor networks as an approach to obtaining non-trivial algorithms for hyperclique counting and the Max-$3$-CSP problem.

(b) an $\Omega(2^{0.918n})$ time lower bound for the permanent of an $n \times n$ matrix.

Publication

*Theory of Computing*, 18(16):1-54