A* Lasso for Learning a Sparse Bayesian Network Structure for Continuous Variables

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

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Jing Xiang, Seyoung Kim


We address the problem of learning a sparse Bayesian network structure for continuous variables in a high-dimensional space. The constraint that the estimated Bayesian network structure must be a directed acyclic graph (DAG) makes the problem challenging because of the huge search space of network structures. Most previous methods were based on a two-stage approach that prunes the search space in the first stage and then searches for a network structure that satisfies the DAG constraint in the second stage. Although this approach is effective in a low-dimensional setting, it is difficult to ensure that the correct network structure is not pruned in the first stage in a high-dimensional setting. In this paper, we propose a single-stage method, called A* lasso, that recovers the optimal sparse Bayesian network structure by solving a single optimization problem with A* search algorithm that uses lasso in its scoring system. Our approach substantially improves the computational efficiency of the well-known exact methods based on dynamic programming. We also present a heuristic scheme that further improves the efficiency of A* lasso without significantly compromising the quality of solutions and demonstrate this on benchmark Bayesian networks and real data.