CrossCat: A Fully Bayesian Nonparametric Method for Analyzing Heterogeneous, High Dimensional Data

Vikash Mansinghka, Patrick Shafto, Eric Jonas, Cap Petschulat, Max Gasner, Joshua B. Tenenbaum; 17(138):1−49, 2016.


There is a widespread need for statistical methods that can analyze high-dimensional datasets without imposing restrictive or opaque modeling assumptions. This paper describes a domain- general data analysis method called CrossCat. CrossCat infers multiple non-overlapping views of the data, each consisting of a subset of the variables, and uses a separate nonparametric mixture to model each view. CrossCat is based on approximately Bayesian inference in a hierarchical, nonparametric model for data tables. This model consists of a Dirichlet process mixture over the columns of a data table in which each mixture component is itself an independent Dirichlet process mixture over the rows; the inner mixture components are simple parametric models whose form depends on the types of data in the table. CrossCat combines strengths of mixture modeling and Bayesian network structure learning. Like mixture modeling, CrossCat can model a broad class of distributions by positing latent variables, and produces representations that can be efficiently conditioned and sampled from for prediction. Like Bayesian networks, CrossCat represents the dependencies and independencies between variables, and thus remains accurate when there are multiple statistical signals. Inference is done via a scalable Gibbs sampling scheme; this paper shows that it works well in practice. This paper also includes empirical results on heterogeneous tabular data of up to 10 million cells, such as hospital cost and quality measures, voting records, unemployment rates, gene expression measurements, and images of handwritten digits. CrossCat infers structure that is consistent with accepted findings and common-sense knowledge in multiple domains and yields predictive accuracy competitive with generative, discriminative, and model-free alternatives.


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