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On Learning Markov Chains
Yi Hao · Alon Orlitsky · Venkatadheeraj Pichapati

Wed Dec 05 02:00 PM -- 04:00 PM (PST) @ Room 210 #78

The problem of estimating an unknown discrete distribution from its samples is a fundamental tenet of statistical learning. Over the past decade, it attracted significant research effort and has been solved for a variety of divergence measures. Surprisingly, an equally important problem, estimating an unknown Markov chain from its samples, is still far from understood. We consider two problems related to the min-max risk (expected loss) of estimating an unknown k-state Markov chain from its n sequential samples: predicting the conditional distribution of the next sample with respect to the KL-divergence, and estimating the transition matrix with respect to a natural loss induced by KL or a more general f-divergence measure.

For the first measure, we determine the min-max prediction risk to within a linear factor in the alphabet size, showing it is \Omega(k\log\log n/n) and O(k^2\log\log n/n). For the second, if the transition probabilities can be arbitrarily small, then only trivial uniform risk upper bounds can be derived. We therefore consider transition probabilities that are bounded away from zero, and resolve the problem for essentially all sufficiently smooth f-divergences, including KL-, L_2-, Chi-squared, Hellinger, and Alpha-divergences.

Author Information

Yi Hao (University of California, San Diego)

Fifth-year Ph.D. student supervised by Prof. Alon Orlitsky at UC San Diego. Broadly interested in Machine Learning, Learning Theory, Algorithm Design, Symbolic and Numerical Optimization. Seeking a summer 2020 internship in Data Science and Machine Learning.

Alon Orlitsky (University of California, San Diego)
Venkatadheeraj Pichapati (UC San Diego)

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