Bayesian Dyadic Trees and Histograms for Regression

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 30 (NIPS 2017)

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Stéphanie van der Pas, Veronika Ročková


Many machine learning tools for regression are based on recursive partitioning of the covariate space into smaller regions, where the regression function can be estimated locally. Among these, regression trees and their ensembles have demonstrated impressive empirical performance. In this work, we shed light on the machinery behind Bayesian variants of these methods. In particular, we study Bayesian regression histograms, such as Bayesian dyadic trees, in the simple regression case with just one predictor. We focus on the reconstruction of regression surfaces that are piecewise constant, where the number of jumps is unknown. We show that with suitably designed priors, posterior distributions concentrate around the true step regression function at a near-minimax rate. These results {\sl do not} require the knowledge of the true number of steps, nor the width of the true partitioning cells. Thus, Bayesian dyadic regression trees are fully adaptive and can recover the true piecewise regression function nearly as well as if we knew the exact number and location of jumps. Our results constitute the first step towards understanding why Bayesian trees and their ensembles have worked so well in practice. As an aside, we discuss prior distributions on balanced interval partitions and how they relate to an old problem in geometric probability. Namely, we relate the probability of covering the circumference of a circle with random arcs whose endpoints are confined to a grid, a new variant of the original problem.