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Statistical Inference in Graphical Models

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Technical rept.

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Graphical models fuse probability theory and graph theory in such a way as to permit efficient representation and computation with probability distributions. They intuitively capture statistical relationships among random variables and provide a succinct formalism that allows for the development of tractable algorithms for statistical inference. In recent years, certain types of graphical models, particularly Bayesian networks and dynamic Bayesian networks DBNs, have been applied to various problems in missile defense that involve decision making under uncertainty and estimation in dynamic systems, such as data association, multitarget tracking, and classification. While the set of problems addressed in the missile defense arena is quite diverse, all require mathematically sound machinery for dealing with uncertainty. The graphical model regime provides a robust, flexible framework for representing and computationally handling uncertainty in real-world problems. While the graphical model regime is relatively new, it has deep roots in many fields, as the formalism generalizes many commonly used stochastic models, including Kalman filters and hidden Markov models. In this report, we describe the mathematical foundations of graphical models and statistical inference, focusing on the concepts and techniques that are most useful to the problem of decision making in dynamic systems under uncertainty. In general, statistical inference on a graphical model is an NP-Hard problem, so there have been large research efforts that involve developing algorithms for performing inference efficiently for certain classes of models, or obtaining approximations for quantities of interest using algorithms for approximate inference. Due to the breadth of problems, a broad class of algorithms has been of interest to researchers over the past several years. As such, the need arose for an extensible and efficient software library for performing statistical inference on graphical models.

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  • Statistics and Probability

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