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Summary by Friedrich-Maximilian Weberling 4 years ago
In this tutorial paper, Carl E. Rasmussen gives an introduction to Gaussian Process Regression focusing on the definition, the hyperparameter learning and future research directions.
A Gaussian Process is completely defined by its mean function $m(\pmb{x})$ and its covariance function (kernel) $k(\pmb{x},\pmb{x}')$. The mean function $m(\pmb{x})$ corresponds to the mean vector $\pmb{\mu}$ of a Gaussian distribution whereas the covariance function $k(\pmb{x}, \pmb{x}')$ corresponds to the covariance matrix $\pmb{\Sigma}$. Thus, a Gaussian Process $f \sim \mathcal{GP}\left(m(\pmb{x}), k(\pmb{x}, \pmb{x}')\right)$ is a generalization of a Gaussian distribution over vectors to a distribution over functions. A random function vector $\pmb{\mathrm{f}}$ can be generated by a Gaussian Process through the following procedure:
1. Compute the components $\mu_i$ of the mean vector $\pmb{\mu}$ for each input $\pmb{x}_i$ using the mean function $m(\pmb{x})$
2. Compute the components $\Sigma_{ij}$ of the covariance matrix $\pmb{\Sigma}$ using the covariance function $k(\pmb{x}, \pmb{x}')$
3. A function vector $\pmb{\mathrm{f}} = [f(\pmb{x}_1), \dots, f(\pmb{x}_n)]^T$ can be drawn from the Gaussian distribution $\pmb{\mathrm{f}} \sim \mathcal{N}\left(\pmb{\mu}, \pmb{\Sigma} \right)$
Applying this procedure to regression, means that the resulting function vector $\pmb{\mathrm{f}}$ shall be drawn in a way that a function vector $\pmb{\mathrm{f}}$ is rejected if it does not comply with the training data $\mathcal{D}$. This is achieved by conditioning the distribution on the training data $\mathcal{D}$ yielding the posterior Gaussian Process $f \rvert \mathcal{D} \sim \mathcal{GP}(m_D(\pmb{x}), k_D(\pmb{x},\pmb{x}'))$ for noise-free observations with the posterior mean function $m_D(\pmb{x}) = m(\pmb{x}) + \pmb{\Sigma}(\pmb{X},\pmb{x})^T \pmb{\Sigma}^{-1}(\pmb{\mathrm{f}} - \pmb{\mathrm{m}})$ and the posterior covariance function $k_D(\pmb{x},\pmb{x}')=k(\pmb{x},\pmb{x}') - \pmb{\Sigma}(\pmb{X}, \pmb{x}')$ with $\pmb{\Sigma}(\pmb{X},\pmb{x})$ being a vector of covariances between every training case of $\pmb{X}$ and $\pmb{x}$.
Noisy observations $y(\pmb{x}) = f(\pmb{x}) + \epsilon$ with $\epsilon \sim \mathcal{N}(0,\sigma_n^2)$ can be taken into account with a second Gaussian Process with mean $m$ and covariance function $k$ resulting in $f \sim \mathcal{GP}(m,k)$ and $y \sim \mathcal{GP}(m, k + \sigma_n^2\delta_{ii'})$. The figure illustrates the cases of noisy observations (variance at training points) and of noise-free observationshttps://i.imgur.com/BWvsB7T.png (no variance at training points).
In the Machine Learning perspective, the mean and the covariance function are parametrised by hyperparameters and provide thus a way to include prior knowledge e.g. knowing that the mean function is a second order polynomial. To find the optimal hyperparameters $\pmb{\theta}$,
1. determine the log marginal likelihood $L= \mathrm{log}(p(\pmb{y} \rvert \pmb{x}, \pmb{\theta}))$,
2. take the first partial derivatives of $L$ w.r.t. the hyperparameters, and
3. apply an optimization algorithm.
It should be noted that a regularization term is not necessary for the log marginal likelihood $L$ because it already contains a complexity penalty term. Also, the tradeoff between data-fit and penalty is performed automatically.
Gaussian Processes provide a very flexible way for finding a suitable regression model. However, they require the high computational complexity $\mathcal{O}(n^3)$ due to the inversion of the covariance matrix. In addition, the generalization of Gaussian Processes to non-Gaussian likelihoods remains complicated.

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