A New View of Automatic Relevance Determination

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 20 (NIPS 2007)

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David Wipf, Srikantan Nagarajan


Automatic relevance determination (ARD), and the closely-related sparse Bayesian learning (SBL) framework, are effective tools for pruning large numbers of irrelevant features. However, popular update rules used for this process are either prohibitively slow in practice and/or heuristic in nature without proven convergence properties. This paper furnishes an alternative means of optimizing a general ARD cost function using an auxiliary function that can naturally be solved using a series of re-weighted L1 problems. The result is an efficient algorithm that can be implemented using standard convex programming toolboxes and is guaranteed to converge to a stationary point unlike existing methods. The analysis also leads to additional insights into the behavior of previous ARD updates as well as the ARD cost function. For example, the standard fixed-point updates of MacKay (1992) are shown to be iteratively solving a particular min-max problem, although they are not guaranteed to lead to a stationary point. The analysis also reveals that ARD is exactly equivalent to performing MAP estimation using a particular feature- and noise-dependent \textit{non-factorial} weight prior with several desirable properties over conventional priors with respect to feature selection. In particular, it provides a tighter approximation to the L0 quasi-norm sparsity measure than the L1 norm. Overall these results suggests alternative cost functions and update procedures for selecting features and promoting sparse solutions.