|Best Paper Award|
Expectation maximization (EM) is the default algorithm for fitting probabilistic models with missing or latent variables, yet we lack a full understanding of its non-asymptotic convergence properties. Previous works show results along the lines of "EM converges at least as fast as gradient descent" by assuming the conditions for the convergence of gradient descent apply to EM. This approach is not only loose, in that it does not capture that EM can make more progress than a gradient step, but the assumptions fail to hold for textbook examples of EM like Gaussian mixtures. In this work we first show that for the common setting of exponential family distributions, viewing EM as a mirror descent algorithm leads to convergence rates in Kullback-Leibler (KL) divergence. Then, we show how the KL divergence is related to first-order stationarity via Bregman divergences. In contrast to previous works, the analysis is invariant to the choice of parametrization and holds with minimal assumptions. We also show applications of these ideas to local linear (and superlinear) convergence rates, generalized EM, and non-exponential family distributions.