Skip to main content
main-content
Top

About this book

Pattern recognition has its origins in engineering, whereas machine learning grew out of computer science. However, these activities can be viewed as two facets of the same field, and together they have undergone substantial development over the past ten years. In particular, Bayesian methods have grown from a specialist niche to become mainstream, while graphical models have emerged as a general framework for describing and applying probabilistic models. Also, the practical applicability of Bayesian methods has been greatly enhanced through the development of a range of approximate inference algorithms such as variational Bayes and expectation pro- gation. Similarly, new models based on kernels have had significant impact on both algorithms and applications. This new textbook reacts these recent developments while providing a comprehensive introduction to the fields of pattern recognition and machine learning. It is aimed at advanced undergraduates or first year PhD students, as well as researchers and practitioners, and assumes no previous knowledge of pattern recognition or - chine learning concepts. Knowledge of multivariate calculus and basic linear algebra is required, and some familiarity with probabilities would be helpful though not essential as the book includes a self-contained introduction to basic probability theory.

Table of Contents

1. Introduction

The problem of searching for patterns in data is a fundamental one and has a long and successful history. For instance, the extensive astronomical observations of Tycho Brahe in the 16th century allowed Johannes Kepler to discover the empirical laws of planetary motion, which in turn provided a springboard for the development of classical mechanics. Similarly, the discovery of regularities in atomic spectra played a key role in the development and verification of quantum physics in the early twentieth century. The field of pattern recognition is concerned with the automatic discovery of regularities in data through the use of computer algorithms and with the use of these regularities to take actions such as classifying the data into different categories.Consider the example of recognizing handwritten digits, illustrated in Figure 1.1. Each digit corresponds to a 28×28 pixel image and so can be represented by a vector x comprising 784 real numbers. The goal is to build a machine that will take such a vector x as input and that will produce the identity of the digit 0, …, 9 as the output. This is a nontrivial problem due to the wide variability of handwriting. It could be tackled using handcrafted rules or heuristics for distinguishing the digits based on the shapes of the strokes, but in practice such an approach leads to a proliferation of rules and of exceptions to the rules and so on, and invariably gives poor results.

2. Probability Distributions

In Chapter 1, we emphasized the central role played by probability theory in the solution of pattern recognition problems. We turn now to an exploration of some particular examples of probability distributions and their properties. As well as being of great interest in their own right, these distributions can form building blocks for more complex models and will be used extensively throughout the book. The distributions introduced in this chapter will also serve another important purpose, namely to provide us with the opportunity to discuss some key statistical concepts, such as Bayesian inference, in the context of simple models before we encounter them in more complex situations in later chapters.One role for the distributions discussed in this chapter is to model the probability distribution p(x) of a random variable x, given a finite set x1, …, x N of observations. This problem is known as density estimation. For the purposes of this chapter, we shall assume that the data points are independent and identically distributed. It should be emphasized that the problem of density estimation is fundamentally ill-posed, because there are infinitely many probability distributions that could have given rise to the observed finite data set. Indeed, any distribution p(x) that is nonzero at each of the data points x1>, …, x N is a potential candidate. The issue of choosing an appropriate distribution relates to the problem of model selection that has already been encountered in the context of polynomial curve fitting in Chapter 1 and that is a central issue in pattern recognition.

3. Linear Models for Regression

The focus so far in this book has been on unsupervised learning, including topics such as density estimation and data clustering. We turn now to a discussion of supervised learning, starting with regression. The goal of regression is to predict the value of one or more continuous target variables t given the value of a D-dimensional vector x of input variables. We have already encountered an example of a regression problem when we considered polynomial curve fitting in Chapter 1. The polynomial is a specific example of a broad class of functions called linear regression models, which share the property of being linear functions of the adjustable parameters, and which will form the focus of this chapter. The simplest form of linear regression models are also linear functions of the input variables. However, we can obtain a much more useful class of functions by taking linear combinations of a fixed set of nonlinear functions of the input variables, known as basis functions. Such models are linear functions of the parameters, which gives them simple analytical properties, and yet can be nonlinear with respect to the input variables.Given a training data set comprising N observations {x n }, where n = 1,…,N, together with corresponding target values {t n }, the goal is to predict the value of t for a new value of x. In the simplest approach, this can be done by directly constructing an appropriate function y(x) whose values for new inputs x constitute the predictions for the corresponding values of t. More generally from a probabilistic perspective, we aim to model the predictive distributionp(tπx) because this expresses our uncertainty about the value of t for each value of x. From this conditional distribution we can make predictions of t, for any new value of x, in such a way as to minimize the expected value of a suitably chosen loss function. As discussed in Section 1.5.5, a common choice of loss function for real-valued variables is the squared loss, for which the optimal solution is given by the conditional expectation of t.

4. Linear Models for Classification

In the previous chapter, we explored a class of regression models having particularly simple analytical and computational properties. We now discuss an analogous class of models for solving classification problems. The goal in classification is to take an input vector x and to assign it to one of K discrete classes C k where k = 1, …, K. In the most common scenario, the classes are taken to be disjoint, so that each input is assigned to one and only one class. The input space is thereby divided into decision regions whose boundaries are called decision boundaries or decision surfaces. In this chapter, we consider linear models for classification, by which we mean that the decision surfaces are linear functions of the input vector x and hence are defined by (D − 1)-dimensional hyperplanes within the D-dimensional input space. Data sets whose classes can be separated exactly by linear decision surfaces are said to be linearly separable.For regression problems, the target variable t was simply the vector of real numbers whose values we wish to predict. In the case of classification, there are various ways of using target values to represent class labels. For probabilistic models, the most convenient, in the case of two-class problems, is the binary representation in which there is a single target variable t ∊ {0,1} such that t = 1 represents class C 1 and t = 0 represents class C2. We can interpret the value of t as the probability that the class is C1, with the values of probability taking only the extreme values of 0 and 1. For K > 2 classes, it is convenient to use a 1-of-K coding scheme in which t is a vector of length K such that if the class is C j , then all elements t k of t are zero except element t j , which takes the value 1. For instance, if we have K = 5 classes, then a pattern from class 2 would be given the target vector

5. Neural Networks

In Chapters 3 and 4 we considered models for regression and classification that comprised linear combinations of fixed basis functions. We saw that such models have useful analytical and computational properties but that their practical applicability was limited by the curse of dimensionality. In order to apply such models to large-scale problems, it is necessary to adapt the basis functions to the data.Support vector machines (SVMs), discussed in Chapter 7, address this by first defining basis functions that are centred on the training data points and then selecting a subset of these during training. One advantage of SVMs is that, although the training involves nonlinear optimization, the objective function is convex, and so the solution of the optimization problem is relatively straightforward. The number of basis functions in the resulting models is generally much smaller than the number of training points, although it is often still relatively large and typically increases with the size of the training set. The relevance vector machine, discussed in Section 7.2, also chooses a subset from a fixed set of basis functions and typically results in much sparser models. Unlike the SVM it also produces probabilistic outputs, although this is at the expense of a nonconvex optimization during training.

6. Kernel Methods

In Chapters 3 and 4, we considered linear parametric models for regression and classification in which the form of the mapping y(x,w) from input x to output y is governed by a vector w of adaptive parameters. During the learning phase, a set of training data is used either to obtain a point estimate of the parameter vector or to determine a posterior distribution over this vector. The training data is then discarded, and predictions for new inputs are based purely on the learned parameter vector w. This approach is also used in nonlinear parametric models such as neural networks.

7. Sparse Kernel Machines

In the previous chapter, we explored a variety of learning algorithms based on nonlinear kernels. One of the significant limitations of many such algorithms is that the kernel function k(x n x m ) must be evaluated for all possible pairs x n and x m of training points, which can be computationally infeasible during training and can lead to excessive computation times when making predictions for new data points. In this chapter we shall look at kernel-based algorithms that have sparse solutions, so that predictions for new inputs depend only on the kernel function evaluated at a subset of the training data points.We begin by looking in some detail at the support vector machine (SVM), which became popular in some years ago for solving problems in classification, regression, and novelty detection. An important property of support vector machines is that the determination of the model parameters corresponds to a convex optimization problem, and so any local solution is also a global optimum. Because the discussion of support vector machines makes extensive use of Lagrange multipliers, the reader is encouraged to review the key concepts covered in Appendix E. Additional information on support vector machines can be found in Vapnik (1995), Burges (1998), Cristianini and Shawe-Taylor (2000), Müller et al. (2001), Schölkopf and Smola (2002), and Herbrich (2002).

8. Graphical Models

Probabilities play a central role in modern pattern recognition. We have seen in Chapter 1 that probability theory can be expressed in terms of two simple equations corresponding to the sum rule and the product rule. All of the probabilistic inference and learning manipulations discussed in this book, no matter how complex, amount to repeated application of these two equations. We could therefore proceed to formulate and solve complicated probabilistic models purely by algebraic manipulation. However, we shall find it highly advantageous to augment the analysis using diagrammatic representations of probability distributions, called probabilistic graphical models. These offer several useful properties: 1. They provide a simple way to visualize the structure of a probabilistic model and can be used to design and motivate new models. 2. Insights into the properties of the model, including conditional independence properties, can be obtained by inspection of the graph. 3. Complex computations, required to perform inference and learning in sophisticated models, can be expressed in terms of graphical manipulations, in which underlying mathematical expressions are carried along implicitly.

9. Mixture Models and EM

If we define a joint distribution over observed and latent variables, the corresponding distribution of the observed variables alone is obtained by marginalization. This allows relatively complex marginal distributions over observed variables to be expressed in terms of more tractable joint distributions over the expanded space of observed and latent variables. The introduction of latent variables thereby allows complicated distributions to be formed from simpler components. In this chapter, we shall see that mixture distributions, such as the Gaussian mixture discussed in Section 2.3.9, can be interpreted in terms of discrete latent variables. Continuous latent variables will form the subject of Chapter 12.

10. Approximate Inference

A central task in the application of probabilistic models is the evaluation of the posterior distribution p(ZǀX) of the latent variables Z given the observed (visible) data variables X, and the evaluation of expectations computed with respect to this distribution. The model might also contain some deterministic parameters, which we will leave implicit for the moment, or it may be a fully Bayesian model in which any unknown parameters are given prior distributions and are absorbed into the set of latent variables denoted by the vector Z. For instance, in the EM algorithm we need to evaluate the expectation of the complete-data log likelihood with respect to the posterior distribution of the latent variables. For many models of practical interest, it will be infeasible to evaluate the posterior distribution or indeed to compute expectations with respect to this distribution. This could be because the dimensionality of the latent space is too high to work with directly or because the posterior distribution has a highly complex form for which expectations are not analytically tractable. In the case of continuous variables, the required integrations may not have closed-form analytical solutions, while the dimensionality of the space and the complexity of the integrand may prohibit numerical integration. For discrete variables, the marginal-izations involve summing over all possible configurations of the hidden variables, and though this is always possible in principle, we often find in practice that there may be exponentially many hidden states so that exact calculation is prohibitively expensive.In such situations, we need to resort to approximation schemes, and these fall broadly into two classes, according to whether they rely on stochastic or deterministic approximations. Stochastic techniques such as Markov chain Monte Carlo, described in Chapter 11, have enabled the widespread use of Bayesian methods across many domains. They generally have the property that given infinite computational resource, they can generate exact results, and the approximation arises from the use of a finite amount of processor time. In practice, sampling methods can be computationally demanding, often limiting their use to small-scale problems. Also, it can be difficult to know whether a sampling scheme is generating independent samples from the required distribution.

11. Sampling Methods

For most probabilistic models of practical interest, exact inference is intractable, and so we have to resort to some form of approximation. In Chapter 10, we discussed inference algorithms based on deterministic approximations, which include methods such as variational Bayes and expectation propagation. Here we consider approximate inference methods based on numerical sampling, also known as Monte Carlo techniques.

12. Continuous Latent Variables

In Chapter 9, we discussed probabilistic models having discrete latent variables, such as the mixture of Gaussians. We now explore models in which some, or all, of the latent variables are continuous. An important motivation for such models is that many data sets have the property that the data points all lie close to a manifold of much lower dimensionality than that of the original data space. To see why this might arise, consider an artificial data set constructed by taking one of the off-line digits, represented by a 64 × 64 pixel grey-level image, and embedding it in a larger image of size 100 × 100 by padding with pixels having the value zero (corresponding to white pixels) in which the location and orientation of the digit is varied at random, as illustrated in Figure 12.1. Each of the resulting images is represented by a point in the 100 × 100 = 10,000-dimensional data space. However, across a data set of such images, there are only three degrees of freedom of variability, corresponding to the vertical and horizontal translations and the rotations. The data points will therefore live on a subspace of the data space whose intrinsic dimensionality is three. Notethat the manifold will be nonlinear because, for instance, if we translate the digit past a particular pixel, that pixel value will go from zero (white) to one (black) and back to zero again, which is clearly a nonlinear function of the digit position. In this example, the translation and rotation parameters are latent variables because we observe only the image vectors and are not told which values of the translation or rotation variables were used to create them.

13. Sequential Data

So far in this book, we have focussed primarily on sets of data points that were assumed to be independent and identically distributed (i.i.d.). This assumption allowed us to express the likelihood function as the product over all data points of the probability distribution evaluated at each data point. For many applications, however, the i.i.d. assumption will be a poor one. Here we consider a particularly important class of such data sets, namely those that describe sequential data. These often arise through measurement of time series, for example the rainfall measurements on successive days at a particular location, or the daily values of a currency exchange rate, or the acoustic features at successive time frames used for speech recognition. An example involving speech data is shown in Figure 13.1. Sequential data can also arise in contexts other than time series, for example the sequence of nucleotide base pairs along a strand of DNA or the sequence of characters in an English sentence. For convenience, we shall sometimes refer to ‘past’ and ‘future’ observations in a sequence. However, the models explored in this chapter are equally applicable to all forms of sequential data, not just temporal sequences.It is useful to distinguish between stationary and nonstationary sequential distributions. In the stationary case, the data evolves in time, but the distribution from which it is generated remains the same. For the more complex nonstationary situation, the generative distribution itself is evolving with time. Here we shall focus on the stationary case.

14. Combining Models

In earlier chapters, we have explored a range of different models for solving classification and regression problems. It is often found that improved performance can be obtained by combining multiple models together in some way, instead of just using a single model in isolation. For instance, we might train L different models and then make predictions using the average of the predictions made by each model. Such combinations of models are sometimes called committees. In Section 14.2, we discuss ways to apply the committee concept in practice, and we also give some insight into why it can sometimes be an effective procedure.One important variant of the committee method, known as boosting, involves training multiple models in sequence in which the error function used to train a particular model depends on the performance of the previous models. This can produce substantial improvements in performance compared to the use of a single model and is discussed in Section 14.3.

Additional information