Gaussian Processes for Stationary and Nonstationary Smoothing: An Overview and Some Applications

Chris Paciorek


  Modeling regression functions nonparametrically in a Bayesian manner requires a prior over function spaces. One popular choice of prior has been the Gaussian process. I will first provide an introduction to Gaussian process regression models, including an overview of how Gaussian processes have been used in the spatial statistics literature under the name of kriging. The success of the Gaussian process approach hinges on the covariance function, used to describe how the response function is related at different points in the space of the predictor variables, thereby imposing smoothness constraints on the regression function. Most previous work in both the machine learning and spatial statistics communities has focused on stationary covariance functions. I extend earlier work using nonstationary covariance functions that allow the regression function to vary in smoothness within the space of the predictor variables. This allows one to more accurately fit functions that are smooth in some areas and wiggly in others. In contrast, the use of stationary covariance functions results in oversmoothing in some parts of the space and undersmoothing in other parts.

There are several methods for fitting the model, based on Markov Chain Monte Carlo algorithms. Preliminary results suggest that the nonstationary Gaussian process model is competitive with successful spline-based methods when using a small number of predictor variables. However, a fully Bayesian treatment is difficult with more than a few hundred data points. Some work in the literature suggests ways to speed up the computations, but the fundamental limitation of the method remains the O(n^3) computations involved in working with the prior covariance matrix.

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Charles Rosenberg
Last modified: Mon Dec 9 10:49:11 EST 2002