Bayesian estimation of discrete entropy with mixtures of stick-breaking priors

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 25 (NIPS 2012)

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Evan Archer, Il Memming Park, Jonathan Pillow


We consider the problem of estimating Shannon's entropy H in the under-sampled regime, where the number of possible symbols may be unknown or countably infinite. Pitman-Yor processes (a generalization of Dirichlet processes) provide tractable prior distributions over the space of countably infinite discrete distributions, and have found major applications in Bayesian non-parametric statistics and machine learning. Here we show that they also provide natural priors for Bayesian entropy estimation, due to the remarkable fact that the moments of the induced posterior distribution over H can be computed analytically. We derive formulas for the posterior mean (Bayes' least squares estimate) and variance under such priors. Moreover, we show that a fixed Dirichlet or Pitman-Yor process prior implies a narrow prior on H, meaning the prior strongly determines the entropy estimate in the under-sampled regime. We derive a family of continuous mixing measures such that the resulting mixture of Pitman-Yor processes produces an approximately flat (improper) prior over H. We explore the theoretical properties of the resulting estimator, and show that it performs well on data sampled from both exponential and power-law tailed distributions.