# Expectation Maximization

Expectation-Maximization (EM) is a general technique for maximum likelihood learning in the presence of counfounding (aka hidden, nuisance) variables.  Consider fiting a distribution $p(a,b)$ of two variables.  However, we want to fit $p$ to make $p(a)$ accurate, not the joint distribution $p(a,b)$.  (There are several reasons we might want to do this– the most common is that we only have training data for $a$.)  So, write down the log-likelihood for some data element $\hat{a}$.

$L({\hat a}) = \log p({\hat a})$

$= \log( \sum_b p({\hat a},b))$

$= \log( \sum_b r(b|{\hat a}) p({\hat a},b)/r(b|{\hat a}) )$

In the last step, $r(b|{\hat a})$ is any valid distribution over $b$.  (The reason for introducing this will be clear shortly.)

Now, recall Jensen’s inequality.  For any distribution $q(x)$, and concave function $f(x)$,

$f(\sum_x q(x) x) \geq \sum_x q(x) f(x).$

Applying this to the last expression we had for $L({\hat x})$, we get a lower bound.

$L({\hat a}) \geq Q({\hat a})$

$Q({\hat a}) = \sum_b r(b|{\hat a}) ( \log p({\hat a},b) - \log r(b|{\hat a}))$

The basic idea of EM is very simple.  Instead of directly trying to maximize $L$, instead maximize the lower bound, $Q$.  This is accomplished in two steps.

• Maximize $Q$ with respect to $r$.  This is called the “Expectation” (E) step.
• Maximize $Q$ with respect to $p$.  This is called the “Maximization” (M) step.

One performs the M-step basically like normal (joint) maximum likelihood learning.  That is, one fits $p$ to maximize

$\sum_{\hat a} \sum_b r(b|{\hat a}) \log p({\hat a},b),$

which is basically just weighted maximum likelihood learning.

The E-step needs a bit more explanation.  (Why is it called the “expectation” step?)  It can be shown, by setting up a Lagrange multiplier problem, that the optimal $r$ will in fact be $r(b|{\hat a}) = p(b|{\hat a})$.  Moreover, it is easy to show that, after substituting this value of $r$, $Q({\hat a})=L({\hat a})$!  Of course, once we start messing around with $p$ in the M step while holding $r$ constant, this will no longer be true, but we can see that at convergence, the bound will be tight.  This, EM truly maximizes $L$, not an approximation to it.