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Modelling Interactions in High-dimensional Data with Backtracking

Rajen D. Shah; 17(207):1−31, 2016.


We study the problem of high-dimensional regression when there may be interacting variables. Approaches using sparsity-inducing penalty functions such as the Lasso can be useful for producing interpretable models. However, when the number variables runs into the thousands, and so even two-way interactions number in the millions, these methods may become computationally infeasible. Typically variable screening based on model fits using only main effects must be performed first. One problem with screening is that important variables may be missed if they are only useful for prediction when certain interaction terms are also present in the model.

To tackle this issue, we introduce a new method we call Backtracking. It can be incorporated into many existing high-dimensional methods based on penalty functions, and works by building increasing sets of candidate interactions iteratively. Models fitted on the main effects and interactions selected early on in this process guide the selection of future interactions. By also making use of previous fits for computation, as well as performing calculations is parallel, the overall run-time of the algorithm can be greatly reduced.

The effectiveness of our method when applied to regression and classification problems is demonstrated on simulated and real data sets. In the case of using Backtracking with the Lasso, we also give some theoretical support for our procedure.

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