EPSRC Reference: 
EP/J013293/1 
Title: 
Learning Highly Structured Sparse Latent Variable Models 
Principal Investigator: 
Silva, Dr RBd 
Other Investigators: 

Researcher CoInvestigators: 

Project Partners: 

Department: 
Statistical Science 
Organisation: 
UCL 
Scheme: 
First Grant  Revised 2009 
Starts: 
01 October 2012 
Ends: 
31 December 2013 
Value (£): 
99,532

EPSRC Research Topic Classifications: 

EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications: 
No relevance to Underpinning Sectors 


Related Grants: 

Panel History: 
Panel Date  Panel Name  Outcome 
01 Feb 2012

EPSRC ICT Responsive Mode  Feb 2012

Announced


Summary on Grant Application Form 
Technological advances have brought the ability of collecting and analysing patterns in highdimensional databases. One particular type of analysis concerns problems where the recorded variables indirectly measure hidden factors that explain away observed associations. For instance, the recent National NHS Staff Survey of 2009, taken by over one hundred thousand staff members, contained several questions on job satisfaction. It is only natural that the patterns of observed answers are the result of some common hidden factors that remain unrecorded. In particular, such answers could arguably be grouped by factors such as perceptions of the quality of work practice, support of colleagues and so on, that are only indirectly measured.
In practice, when making sense out of a highdimensional data source, it is useful to reduce the observations to a small number of common factors. Since records are affected by sources of variability that are unrelated to the actual factors (think of someone having a bad day, or even typing wrong information by mistake), removing such artifacts is also part of the statistical problem. A model that estimates such transformations is said to perform "dimensionality reduction" and "smoothing".
There are a variety of methods to accomplish such tasks. At one end of the spectrum, there are models that assume the data match some very simple patterns such as bell curves and predetermined factors. Others are very powerful, allowing for flexible patterns and even an infinite number of factors that are inferred from data under some very mild assumptions. The proposed work tries to bridge these extremes: the shortcomings of the very flexible models are subtle but important. In particular, they can be very sensitive to changes in the data  meaning some very different conclusions about the hidden factors might be achieved if a slightly different set of observations is provided. Moreover there are computational concerns: calculating the desired estimates usually requires an iterative process, a process that needs some initial guess about these estimates. So, even for a fixed dataset, results can vary considerably if such an initial guess is not carefully chosen. Our motivation is that if one does have these concerns, one might as well take the trouble of incorporating domain knowledge about the domain. The upshot: we do not aim to be general, and instead target applications where some reasonable domain knowledge exists. In particular, we focus on problems where the hidden targets of interest are prespecified, but infinitely many others might exist. While we map our data to a fixed space of hidden variables, we provide an approach that is robust to the presence of an unbounded number of other, implicit, common factors. The proposed models are adaptive: they account for possible extra variability between the given hidden factors that would be missed by the simpler models. At the same time, they are designed to be less sensitive to initial conditions while being less sensitive to small changes in the datasets.

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Summary 

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