In my particular problem, I have $$t \in \{1,...N\}$$ time periods, and feature vectors $$x_t \in R^m $$ which I hypothesize predict something about the probability distribution that the targets $y_t \in R$ come from:

$$ y_t \sim P(x_t) $$

Where $P$ is the probability distribution that is (at least partly) determined by $x_t$.

For instance I could hypothesize that $P$ is the normal distribution, or some other parameterized distribution, where the variance, mean, and any other parameters that specify the distribution are determined by $x_t$.

The question is, how do I estimate what $P(x_t)%$ is?

I want a predictive model that estimates (out of sample) what $P(x)$ is.

My first idea was just to fit the parameterized probability distribution to the $y_t$ "near" a given point $x$ using maximum likelihood, and say that is my estimate of $P(x)$. However this seems primitive.

Any better ideas?

In my problem, $m$, the number of features, can be small, 3-5ish. Currently, these are the outputs of sophisticated quantile* estimators (estimators which themselves use dozens of features), so there is a lot of prior belief about how these should relate to the distribution.

*an $\alpha$ quantile estimate is $\hat{y_t}(x_t)$ such that $P(y_t \leq \hat{y_t} | x_t) < \alpha \in [0,1]$

Edit: Now I am fitting a 3-parameter distribution to the quantile estimates using least-squares criterion. Still open to other suggestions!


1 Answer 1


Here's my take - model this problem as a conditional probability function and estimate the conditional CDF.

The conditional distribution of $y_t$ given $x_t=x$ is given by $$ F(y_t\vert x_t)=P(y_t\le y\vert x_t=x)=\mathbb{E}(1_{\{y_t\le y\}}\vert x_t=x) $$ Therefore, you can estimate the conditional CDF using regression methods, with the caveat that $1_{\{y_t\le y\}}$ is a function of $y$ and therefore, estimation of the conditional CDF is essentially a set of regressions. Common choices for the estimation of the conditional CDF include Nadaraya-Watson, local linear estimation, or adaptive weighted Nadaraya-Watson.

Hope this helps.

  • $\begingroup$ In other words, perform a set $i \in \{1,...I\}$ of classification problems each estimating $P(y_t \leq y_i | x=x_t)$. This is basically what I already have, except inverted - I have quantile estimates $\hat{y_t}(x_t) : P(y_t \leq \hat{y_t} | x_t) < \alpha \in [0,1]$. I estimate quantiles using "sophisticated" off-the-shelf ML models, but the outputs are noisy and I just consider them "features" for estimating the "true" distribution. Maybe I'll try your idea with features being these quantiles. $\endgroup$
    – JoseOrtiz3
    Dec 6, 2018 at 23:51
  • $\begingroup$ Update: I ended up least-squares fitting a three-parameter distribution upon an ensemble of quantile estimators. $\endgroup$
    – JoseOrtiz3
    Feb 6, 2019 at 8:53

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