Estimating Mixture Entropy with Pairwise Distances


Mixture distributions arise in many parametric and non-parametric settings, for example in Gaussian mixture models and in non-parametric estimation. It is often necessary to compute the entropy of a mixture, but in most cases this quantity has no closed-form expression, making some form of approximation necessary. We propose a family of estimators based on a pairwise distance function between mixture components, and show that this estimator class has many attractive properties. For many distributions of interest, the proposed estimators are efficient to compute, differentiable in the mixture parameters, and become exact when the mixture components are clustered. We prove this family includes lower and upper bounds on the mixture entropy. The Chernoff α-divergence gives a lower bound when chosen as the distance function, with the Bhattacharyaa distance providing the tightest lower bound for components that are symmetric and members of a location family. The Kullback-Leibler divergence gives an upper bound when used as the distance function. We provide closed-form expressions of these bounds for mixtures of Gaussians, and discuss their applications to the estimation of mutual information. We then demonstrate that our bounds are significantly tighter than well-known existing bounds using numeric simulations. This pairwise estimator class is very useful in optimization problems involving maximization/minimization of entropy and mutual information, such as MaxEnt and rate distortion problems.