Probabilistic graphical models (PGMs) are a rich framework for encoding probability distributions over complex domains: joint (multivariate) distributions over large numbers of random variables that interact with each other. These representations sit at the intersection of statistics and computer science, relying on concepts from probability theory, graph algorithms, machine learning, and more. They are the basis for the state-of-the-art methods in a wide variety of applications, such as medical diagnosis, image understanding, speech recognition, natural language processing, and many, many more. They are also a foundational tool in formulating many machine learning problems.
This course is the second in a sequence of three. Following the first course, which focused on representation, this course addresses the question of probabilistic inference: how a PGM can be used to answer questions. Even though a PGM generally describes a very high dimensional distribution, its structure is designed so as to allow questions to be answered efficiently. The course presents both exact and approximate algorithms for different types of inference tasks, and discusses where each could best be applied. The (highly recommended) honors track contains two hands-on programming assignments, in which key routines of the most commonly used exact and approximate algorithms are implemented and applied to a real-world problem.

From the lesson

MAP Algorithms

This module describes algorithms for finding the most likely assignment for a distribution encoded as a PGM (a task known as MAP inference). We describe message passing algorithms, which are very similar to the algorithms for computing conditional probabilities, except that we need to also consider how to decode the results to construct a single assignment. In an optional module, we describe a few other algorithms that are able to use very different techniques by exploiting the combinatorial optimization nature of the MAP task.