Statistical and Computational Guarantees for the Baum-Welch Algorithm

Fanny Yang, Sivaraman Balakrishnan, Martin J. Wainwright; 18(125):1−53, 2017.


The Hidden Markov Model (HMM) is one of the mainstays of statistical modeling of discrete time series, with applications including speech recognition, computational biology, computer vision and econometrics. Estimating an HMM from its observation process is often addressed via the Baum-Welch algorithm, which is known to be susceptible to local optima. In this paper, we first give a general characterization of the basin of attraction associated with any global optimum of the population likelihood. By exploiting this characterization, we provide non-asymptotic finite sample guarantees on the Baum-Welch updates and show geometric convergence to a small ball of radius on the order of the minimax rate around a global optimum. As a concrete example, we prove a linear rate of convergence for a hidden Markov mixture of two isotropic Gaussians given a suitable mean separation and an initialization within a ball of large radius around (one of) the true parameters. To our knowledge, these are the first rigorous local convergence guarantees to global optima for the Baum-Welch algorithm in a setting where the likelihood function is nonconvex. We complement our theoretical results with thorough numerical simulations studying the convergence of the Baum-Welch algorithm and illustrating the accuracy of our predictions.


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