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\(\DeclareMathOperator*{\argmax}{argmax}\) \(\DeclareMathOperator{\defeq}{\stackrel{def}{=}}\)

Previously, we assumed that all variables were observed and the graph was known. Now we consider the presence of latent (unobserved) variables while the graph remains known. The presence of latent variables can screw up parameter estimation. For instance, if \(x\) is observed and no latent variables are present, then we can directly maximize the log likelihood:

\[\argmax_{\theta} \log p(x|\theta)\]However, if there exist latent variables \(y\), then directly maximizing the log likelihood is no longer possible:

\[\argmax_{\theta} \log \int_y p(x, y| \theta)\]Expectation Maximization (EM) is a principled iterative algorithm for simultaneously inferring both latent variables and parameters for their distributions. For concreteness, suppose we have observable random variable \(x\), latent variable \(y\) and parameters \(\theta = \{\theta_x, \theta_y\}\) for the distributions \(p(y| \theta_y)\) and \(p(x|y, \theta_x)\). In such a setting, inference is difficult because we have two unknown but related quantities: the unknown values of the latent variables (i.e. \(y\)), and the unknown parameters for the latent and observable variables’ distributions (i.e. \(\theta\). EM makes inferring both unknowns possible by iteratively repeating by two steps. First, we pretend we had observed the latent variables and we then infer values of the distributions’ parameters \(\theta\). Second, we pretend we have the parameters for distributions and we then infer values of the latent variables \(y\).

One straightforward way to understand EM is by viewing it as progressively tightening a lower bound on the (log) likelihood. Per Jensen’s Inequality, any distribution over the latent variables \(q(y)\) creates a lower bound on the log likelihood:

\[\begin{align} l(\theta) \defeq \log p(x|\theta) &= \log \int_y p(x, y| \theta) dy && \text{Marginalization over $y$}\\ &= \log \int_y \frac{p(x, y| \theta)}{q(y)} q(y) dy && 1 = \frac{q(y)}{q(y)}\\ &= \log \mathbb{E}_{q(y)}[\frac{p(x, y| \theta)}{q(y)}] && \text{Defn. of expectation}\\ &\geq \mathbb{E}_{q(y)}[\log \frac{p(x, y| \theta)}{q(y)}] && \text{Jensen's Inequality} \end{align}\]We call this lower bound \(F(q, \theta) \defeq \mathbb{E}_{q(y)}[ \log \frac{p(x, y| \theta)}{q(y)} ]\)
the **negative variational free energy**. It has several equivalent forms that will reveal to us
the two EM steps that, when iteratively applied, monotonically increase the free energy,
and thus monotonically increase the log likelihood.

Why are alternative forms of the free energy useful? The second tells us that if we want to maximize the free energy with respect to \(\theta\), we can do so independently of \(q(y)\): generate samples from \(q(y)\) and then choose \(\theta^* = \argmax_{\theta} \log p(x, y| \theta)\), since \(H[q]\) is constant with respect to \(\theta\). The third tells us that if we want to maximize the free energy with respect to \(q(y)\), we can do so independently of \(\theta\): since \(\theta\) is fixed, setting \(q(y) = p(y|x, \theta)\) raises the free energy exactly to the likelihood. We know that this increases the log likelihood because every KL divergence is non-negative. Using \((k)\) to indicate the \(k\)th step, we now have the EM algorithm:

- E Step: Holding parameters \(\theta\) fixed, optimize \(F(q, \theta)\) with respect to \(q\):

- M Step: Holding \(q(y)\) fixed, optimize \(F(q, \theta)\) with respect to \(\theta\):

There are two questions we might immediately ask. First, why is this pair of steps guaranteed to monotonically increase the log likelihood? Second, is this pair of steps guaranteed to converge?