Structured Learning with Approximate Inference

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

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Alex Kulesza, Fernando Pereira


In many structured prediction problems, the highest-scoring labeling is hard to compute exactly, leading to the use of approximate inference methods. However, when inference is used in a learning algorithm, a good approximation of the score may not be suf´Čücient. We show in particular that learning can fail even with an approximate inference method with rigorous approximation guarantees. There are two reasons for this. First, approximate methods can effectively reduce the expres- sivity of an underlying model by making it impossible to choose parameters that reliably give good predictions. Second, approximations can respond to parameter changes in such a way that standard learning algorithms are misled. In contrast, we give two positive results in the form of learning bounds for the use of LP-relaxed inference in structured perceptron and empirical risk minimization settings. We argue that without understanding combinations of inference and learning, such as these, that are appropriately compatible, learning performance under approximate inference cannot be guaranteed.