Variational Inference for the Nested Chinese Restaurant Process

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 22 (NIPS 2009)

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Chong Wang, David Blei


The nested Chinese restaurant process (nCRP) is a powerful nonparametric Bayesian model for learning tree-based hierarchies from data. Since its posterior distribution is intractable, current inference methods have all relied on MCMC sampling. In this paper, we develop an alternative inference technique based on variational methods. To employ variational methods, we derive a tree-based stick-breaking construction of the nCRP mixture model, and a novel variational algorithm that efficiently explores a posterior over a large set of combinatorial structures. We demonstrate the use of this approach for text and hand written digits modeling, where we show we can adapt the nCRP to continuous data as well.