When is optimal estimation linear? It is well known that, when a Gaussian source is contaminated with Gaussian noise, a linear estimator minimizes the mean square estimation error. This paper analyzes, more generally, the conditions for linearity of optimal estimators. Given a noise (or source) distribution, and a specified signal to noise ratio (SNR), we derive conditions for existence and uniqueness of a source (or noise) distribution for which the $L_p$ optimal estimator is linear. We then show that, if the noise and source variances are equal, then the matching source must be distributed identically to the noise. Moreover, we prove that the Gaussian source-channel pair is unique in the sense that it is the only source-channel pair for which the mean square error (MSE) optimal estimator is linear at more than one SNR values. Further, we show the asymptotic linearity of MSE optimal estimators for low SNR if the channel is Gaussian regardless of the source and, vice versa, for high SNR if the source is Gaussian regardless of the channel. The extension to the vector case is also considered where besides the conditions inherited from the scalar case, additional constraints must be satisfied to ensure linearity of the optimal estimator.Comment: To appear in IEEE Transactions on Information Theory, accepted on Feb 5, 201
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