Binary to Bushy: Bayesian Hierarchical Clustering with the Beta Coalescent

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 26 (NIPS 2013)

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Yuening Hu, Jordan L. Ying, Hal Daume III, Z. Irene Ying


Discovering hierarchical regularities in data is a key problem in interacting with large datasets, modeling cognition, and encoding knowledge. A previous Bayesian solution---Kingman's coalescent---provides a convenient probabilistic model for data represented as a binary tree. Unfortunately, this is inappropriate for data better described by bushier trees. We generalize an existing belief propagation framework of Kingman's coalescent to the beta coalescent, which models a wider range of tree structures. Because of the complex combinatorial search over possible structures, we develop new sampling schemes using sequential Monte Carlo and Dirichlet process mixture models, which render inference efficient and tractable. We present results on both synthetic and real data that show the beta coalescent outperforms Kingman's coalescent on real datasets and is qualitatively better at capturing data in bushy hierarchies.