Quantifying the uncertainty of a belief net response: Bayesian error-bars for belief net inference


A Bayesian belief network models a joint distribution over variables using a DAG to represent variable dependencies and network parameters to represent the conditional probability of each variable given an assignment to its immediate parents. Existing algorithms assume each network parameter is fixed. From a Bayesian perspective, however, these network parameters can be random variables that reflect uncertainty in parameter estimates, arising because the parameters are learned from data, or as they are elicited from uncertain experts. Belief networks are commonly used to compute responses to queries — i.e., return a number for P(H= h |E= e). Parameter uncertainty induces uncertainty in query responses, which are thus themselves random variables. This paper investigates this query response distribution, and shows how to accurately model it for any query and any network structure. In particular, we prove that the query response is asymptotically Gaussian and provide its mean value and asymptotic variance. Moreover, we present an algorithm for computing these quantities that has the same worst-case complexity as inference in general, and also describe straight-line code when the query includes all n variables. We provide empirical evidence that (1) our approximation of the variance is very accurate, and (2) a Beta distribution with these moments provides a very accurate model of the observed query response distribution. We also show how to use this to produce accurate error bars around these responses — i.e., to determine that the response to P(H= h |E= e) is x ± y with confidence 1 − δ.


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