Entropy Rate Estimation for Markov Chains with Large State Space

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 31 (NeurIPS 2018)

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Yanjun Han, Jiantao Jiao, Chuan-Zheng Lee, Tsachy Weissman, Yihong Wu, Tiancheng Yu


Entropy estimation is one of the prototypical problems in distribution property testing. To consistently estimate the Shannon entropy of a distribution on $S$ elements with independent samples, the optimal sample complexity scales sublinearly with $S$ as $\Theta(\frac{S}{\log S})$ as shown by Valiant and Valiant \cite{Valiant--Valiant2011}. Extending the theory and algorithms for entropy estimation to dependent data, this paper considers the problem of estimating the entropy rate of a stationary reversible Markov chain with $S$ states from a sample path of $n$ observations. We show that \begin{itemize} \item Provided the Markov chain mixes not too slowly, \textit{i.e.}, the relaxation time is at most $O(\frac{S}{\ln^3 S})$, consistent estimation is achievable when $n \gg \frac{S^2}{\log S}$. \item Provided the Markov chain has some slight dependency, \textit{i.e.}, the relaxation time is at least $1+\Omega(\frac{\ln^2 S}{\sqrt{S}})$, consistent estimation is impossible when $n \lesssim \frac{S^2}{\log S}$. \end{itemize} Under both assumptions, the optimal estimation accuracy is shown to be $\Theta(\frac{S^2}{n \log S})$. In comparison, the empirical entropy rate requires at least $\Omega(S^2)$ samples to be consistent, even when the Markov chain is memoryless. In addition to synthetic experiments, we also apply the estimators that achieve the optimal sample complexity to estimate the entropy rate of the English language in the Penn Treebank and the Google One Billion Words corpora, which provides a natural benchmark for language modeling and relates it directly to the widely used perplexity measure.