Rethinking the Learning of Belief Network Probabilities

Ron Musick

Belief networks are a powerful tool for knowledge discovery that provide concise, understandable probabilistic models of data. There are methods grounded in probability theory to incrementally update the relationships described by the belief network when new information is seen, to perform complex inferences over any set of variables in the data, to incorporate domain expertise and prior knowledge into the model, and to automatically learn the model from data. This paper concentrates on part of the belief network induction problem, that of learning the quantitative structure (the conditional probabilities), given the qualitative structure. In particular, the current practice of rote learning the probabilities in belief networks can be significantly improved upon. We advance the idea of applying any learning algorithm to the task of conditional probability learning in belief networks, discuss potential benefits, and show results of applying neural networks and other algorithms to a medium sized car insurance belief network. The results demonstrate from 10 to 100% improvements in model error rates over the current approaches.

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