Gaussian processes
: iterative sparse approximations

  • Lehel Csató

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


In recent years there has been an increased interest in applying non-parametric methods to real-world problems. Significant research has been devoted to Gaussian processes (GPs) due to their increased flexibility when compared with parametric models. These methods use Bayesian learning, which generally leads to analytically intractable posteriors.
This thesis proposes a two-step solution to construct a probabilistic approximation to the posterior. In the first step we adapt the Bayesian online learning to GPs: the final approximation to the posterior is the result of propagating the first and second moments of intermediate posteriors obtained by combining a new example with the previous approximation. The propagation of em functional forms is solved by showing the existence of a parametrisation to posterior moments that uses combinations of the kernel function at the training points, transforming the Bayesian online learning of functions into a parametric formulation. The drawback is the prohibitive quadratic scaling of the number of parameters with the size of the data, making the method inapplicable to large datasets.
The second step solves the problem of the exploding parameter size and makes GPs applicable to arbitrarily large datasets. The approximation is based on a measure of distance between two GPs, the KL-divergence between GPs. This second approximation is with a constrained GP in which only a small subset of the whole training dataset is used to represent the GP. This subset is called the em Basis Vector, or BV set and the resulting GP is a sparse approximation to the true posterior.
As this sparsity is based on the KL-minimisation, it is probabilistic and independent of the way the posterior approximation from the first step is obtained. We combine the sparse approximation with an extension to the Bayesian online algorithm that allows multiple iterations for each input and thus approximating a batch solution.
The resulting sparse learning algorithm is a generic one: for different problems we only change the likelihood. The algorithm is applied to a variety of problems and we examine its performance both on more classical regression and classification tasks and to the data-assimilation and a simple density estimation problems.
Date of AwardMar 2002
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorManfred Opper (Supervisor)


  • Gaussian processes
  • online learning
  • sparse approximations

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