Tree-Width and the Computational Complexity of MAP Approximations in Bayesian Networks

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The problem of finding the most probable explanation to a designated set of variables given partial evidence (the MAP problem) is a notoriously intractable problem in Bayesian networks, both to compute exactly and to approximate. It is known, both from theoretical considerations and from practical experience, that low tree-width is typically an essential prerequisite to efficient exact computations in Bayesian networks. In this paper we investigate whether the same holds for approximating MAP. We define four notions of approximating MAP (by value, structure, rank, and expectation) and argue that all of them are intractable in general. We prove that efficient value-approximations, structure-approximations, and rank-approximations of MAP instances with high tree-width will violate the Exponential Time Hypothesis. In contrast, we show that MAP can sometimes be efficiently expectation-approximated, even in instances with high tree-width, if the most probable explanation has a high probability. We introduce the complexity class FERT, analogous to the class FTP, to capture this notion of fixed-parameter expectation-approximability. We suggest a road-map to future research that yields fixed-parameter tractable results for expectation-approximate MAP, even in graphs with high tree-width.

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