Introduction to Graphical Models and Bayesian Networks
Graphical models are a marriage between probability theory and graph theory. They provide a natural tool for dealing with two problems that occur throughout applied mathematics and engineering -- uncertainty and complexity -- and in particular they are playing an increasingly important role in the design and analysis of machine learning algorithms. Fundamental to the idea of a graphical model is the notion of modularity -- a complex system is built by combining simpler parts. Probability theory provides the glue whereby the parts are combined, ensuring that the system as a whole is consistent, and providing ways to interface models to data. The graph theoretic side of graphical models provides both an intuitively appealing interface by which humans can model highly-interacting sets of variables as well as a data structure that lends itself naturally to the design of efficient general-purpose algorithms.
Many of the classical multivariate probabalistic systems studied in fields such as statistics, systems engineering, information theory, pattern recognition and statistical mechanics are special cases of the general graphical model formalism -- examples include mixture models, factor analysis, hidden Markov models, Kalman filters and Ising models. The graphical model framework provides a way to view all of these systems as instances of a common underlying formalism. This view has many advantages -- in particular, specialized techniques that have been developed in one field can be transferred between research communities and exploited more widely. Moreover, the graphical model formalism provides a natural framework for the design of new systems.