An Efficient Algorithm for Estimating State Sequences in Imprecise Hidden Markov Models

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Abstract

We present an efficient exact algorithm for estimating state sequences from outputs or observations in imprecise hidden Markov models (iHMMs). The uncertainty linking one state to the next, and that linking a state to its output, is represented by a set of probability mass functions instead of a single such mass function. We consider as best estimates for state sequences the maximal sequences for the posterior joint state model conditioned on the observed output sequence, associated with a gain function that is the indicator of the state sequence. This corresponds to and generalises finding the state sequence with the highest posterior probability in (precise-probabilistic) HMMs, thereby making our algorithm a generalisation of the one by Viterbi. We argue that the computational complexity of our algorithm is at worst quadratic in the length of the iHMM, cubic in the number of states, and essentially linear in the number of maximal state sequences. An important feature of our imprecise approach is that there may be more than one maximal sequence, typically in those instances where its precise-probabilistic counterpart is sensitive to the choice of prior. For binary iHMMs, we investigate experimentally how the number of maximal state sequences depends on the model parameters. We also present an application in optical character recognition, demonstrating that our algorithm can be usefully applied to robustify the inferences made by its precise-probabilistic counterpart.

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