Next: Definition and Basic Properties Up: Dependency Networks for Inference, Previous: Probabilistic Inference

# General Dependency Networks

As we have discussed, consistent dependency networks and Markov networks are interchangeable representations: given one, we can compute the other. In this section, we consider a more general class of dependency networks and part company with Markov networks. Our extension of consistent dependency networks is motivated by computational concerns. For domains having a large number of variables and many dependencies among those variables, it is computationally expensive to learn a Markov network from data and then convert that network to a consistent dependency network. As an alternative, we start with the observation that the local distribution for variable in a dependency network is the conditional distribution , which can be estimated by any number of probabilistic classification techniques (or regression techniques, if we were to consider continuous variables) such as methods using a probabilistic decision tree (e.g., Buntine, 1991), a generalized linear model (e.g., McCullagh and Nelder, 1989), a neural network (e.g., Bishop, 1995), a probabilistic support-vector machine (e.g., Platt, 1999), or an embedded regression/classification model (Heckerman and Meek, 1997). This observation suggests a simple, heuristic approach for learning the structure and probabilities of a dependency network from exchangeable (i.i.d.) data. Namely, for each variable in domain , we independently estimate its local distribution from data using a classification algorithm. Once we have all estimates for the local distributions, we then construct the structure of the dependency network from the (in)dependencies encoded in these estimates. For example, suppose we wish to construct a dependency network for the domain . To do so, we need to estimate three conditional probability distributions: , , and . First, we use prior knowledge to decide how each distribution is to be modeled. We may decide, for example, that a logistic regression, a multilayer neural net, and a probabilistic decision tree are appropriate models for , , and , respectively. (There is no requirement that each distribution be chosen from the same model class.) In addition, for each estimation, we may choose to use a feature-selection algorithm that can discard some of the inputs. Next, we apply the estimation/learning procedures. For the sake of illustration, suppose we discover that is not a significant predictor of and that is not a significant predictor of . Finally, we construct the dependency network structure--in this case, --and populate the local distributions with the conditional-probability estimates. Note that feature selection in the classification/regression process governs the structure of the dependency network. This algorithm will be computationally efficient in many situations where learning a Markov network and converting it to a dependency network is not. Nonetheless, this procedure has the drawback that, due to--for example--heuristic search and finite-data effects, the resulting local distributions are likely to be inconsistent in that there is no joint distribution from which each of the local distributions may be obtained via the rules of probability. For example, in the simple domain it is possible that the estimator of discards as an input whereas the estimator of retains as an input. The result is the structural inconsistency that helps to predict , but does not help to predict . Numeric inconsistencies are also likely to result. Nonetheless, in situations where the data set contains many samples, strong inconsistencies will be rare because each local distribution is learned from the same data set, which we assume is generated from a single underlying joint distribution. In other words, although dependency networks learned using our procedure will be inconsistent, they will be almost'' consistent when learned from data sets with large sample sizes. This observation assumes that the model classes used for the local distributions can closely approximate the conditional distributions consistent with the underlying joint distribution. For example, probabilistic decision trees, which we shall use, satisfy this assumption for variables with finite domains. Because a dependency network learned in this manner is almost consistent, we can imagine--as a heuristic--using procedures resembling Gibbs sampling to extract a joint distribution and to answer probabilistic queries. In the remainder of this section, we formalize these ideas and evaluate them with experiments on real data.

Subsections

Next: Definition and Basic Properties Up: Dependency Networks for Inference, Previous: Probabilistic Inference
Journal of Machine Learning Research, 2000-10-19