Learning Topic Models - Going beyond SVD
Topic Modeling is an approach used for automatic comprehension and classification of data in a variety of settings, and perhaps the canonical application is in uncovering thematic structure in a corpus of documents. A number of foundational works both in machine learning and in theory have suggested a probabilistic model for documents, whereby documents arise as a convex combination of (i.e. distribution on) a small number of topic vectors, each topic vector being a distribution on words (i.e. a vector of word-frequencies). Similar models have since been used in a variety of application areas; the Latent Dirichlet Allocation or LDA model of Blei et al. is especially popular. Theoretical studies of topic modeling focus on learning the model's parameters assuming the data is actually generated from it. Existing approaches for the most part rely on Singular Value Decomposition(SVD), and consequently have one of two limitations: these works need to either assume that each document contains only one topic, or else can only recover the span of the topic vectors instead of the topic vectors themselves. This paper formally justifies Nonnegative Matrix Factorization(NMF) as a main tool in this context, which is an analog of SVD where all vectors are nonnegative. Using this tool we give the first polynomial-time algorithm for learning topic models without the above two limitations. The algorithm uses a fairly mild assumption about the underlying topic matrix called separability, which is usually found to hold in real-life data. A compelling feature of our algorithm is that it generalizes to models that incorporate topic-topic correlations, such as the Correlated Topic Model and the Pachinko Allocation Model. We hope that this paper will motivate further theoretical results that use NMF as a replacement for SVD - just as NMF has come to replace SVD in many applications.