Appropriate, accessible and appealing probabilistic graphical models




Inouye, David Iseri

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Appropriate - Many multivariate probabilistic models either use independent distributions or dependent Gaussian distributions. Yet, many real-world datasets contain count-valued or non-negative skewed data, e.g. bag-of-words text data and biological sequencing data. Thus, we develop novel probabilistic graphical models for use on count-valued and non-negative data including Poisson graphical models and multinomial graphical models. We develop one generalization that allows for triple-wise or k-wise graphical models going beyond the normal pairwise formulation. Furthermore, we also explore Gaussian-copula graphical models and derive closed-form solutions for the conditional distributions and marginal distributions (both before and after conditioning). Finally, we derive mixture and admixture, or topic model, generalizations of these graphical models to introduce more power and interpretability.

Accessible - Previous multivariate models, especially related to text data, often have complex dependencies without a closed form and require complex inference algorithms that have limited theoretical justification. For example, hierarchical Bayesian models often require marginalizing over many latent variables. We show that our novel graphical models (even the k-wise interaction models) have simple and intuitive estimation procedures based on node-wise regressions that likely have similar theoretical guarantees as previous work in graphical models. For the copula-based graphical models, we show that simple approximations could still provide useful models; these copula models also come with closed-form conditional and marginal distributions, which make them amenable to exploratory inspection and manipulation. The parameters of these models are easy to interpret and thus may be accessible to a wide audience.

Appealing - High-level visualization and interpretation of graphical models with even 100 variables has often been difficult even for a graphical model expert---despite visualization being one of the original motivators for graphical models. This difficulty is likely due to the lack of collaboration between graphical model experts and visualization experts. To begin bridging this gap, we develop a novel "what if?" interaction that manipulates and leverages the probabilistic power of graphical models. Our approach defines: the probabilistic mechanism via conditional probability; the query language to map text input to a conditional probability query; and the formal underlying probabilistic model. We then propose to visualize these query-specific probabilistic graphical models by combining the intuitiveness of force-directed layouts with the beauty and readability of word clouds, which pack many words into valuable screen space while ensuring words do not overlap via pixel-level collision detection. Although both the force-directed layout and the pixel-level packing problems are challenging in their own right, we approximate both simultaneously via adaptive simulated annealing starting from careful initialization. For visualizing mixture distributions, we also design a meaningful mapping from the properties of the mixture distribution to a color in the perceptually uniform CIELUV color space. Finally, we demonstrate our approach via illustrative visualizations of several real-world datasets.


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