SMEM Algorithm for Mixture Models

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 11 (NIPS 1998)

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Naonori Ueda, Ryohei Nakano, Zoubin Ghahramani, Geoffrey E. Hinton


We present a split and merge EM (SMEM) algorithm to overcome the local maximum problem in parameter estimation of finite mixture models. In the case of mixture models, non-global maxima often involve having too many components of a mixture model in one part of the space and too few in an(cid:173) other, widely separated part of the space. To escape from such configurations we repeatedly perform simultaneous split and merge operations using a new criterion for efficiently selecting the split and merge candidates. We apply the proposed algorithm to the training of Gaussian mixtures and mixtures of factor analyzers using synthetic and real data and show the effectiveness of using the split and merge operations to improve the likelihood of both the training data and of held-out test data.