Studies on the generalisation of Gaussian processes and Bayesian neural networks

  • Francesco Vivarelli

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


The assessment of the reliability of systems which learn from data is a key issue to investigate thoroughly before the actual application of information processing techniques to real-world problems. Over the recent years Gaussian processes and Bayesian neural networks have come to the fore and in this thesis their generalisation capabilities are analysed from theoretical and empirical perspectives.
Upper and lower bounds on the learning curve of Gaussian processes are investigated in order to estimate the amount of data required to guarantee a certain level of generalisation performance. In this thesis we analyse the effects on the bounds and the learning curve induced by the smoothness of stochastic processes described by four different covariance functions. We also explain the early, linearly-decreasing behaviour of the curves and we investigate the asymptotic behaviour of the upper bounds. The effect of the noise and the characteristic lengthscale of the stochastic process on the tightness of the bounds are also discussed. The analysis is supported by several numerical simulations.
The generalisation error of a Gaussian process is affected by the dimension of the input vector and may be decreased by input-variable reduction techniques. In conventional approaches to Gaussian process regression, the positive definite matrix estimating the distance between input points is often taken diagonal.
In this thesis we show that a general distance matrix is able to estimate the effective dimensionality of the regression problem as well as to discover the linear transformation from the manifest variables to the hidden-feature space, with a significant reduction of the input dimension. Numerical simulations confirm the significant superiority of the general distance matrix with respect to the diagonal one.In the thesis we also present an empirical investigation of the generalisation errors of neural networks trained by two Bayesian algorithms, the Markov Chain Monte Carlo method and the evidence framework; the neural networks have been trained on the task of labelling segmented outdoor images.
Date of AwardSept 1998
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorChristopher K.I. Williams (Supervisor)


  • Gaussian processes
  • learning curves
  • bounds
  • input feature reduction
  • Bayesian neural networks
  • automatic relevance determination

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