Here we shall introduce the Expectation Conditional Maximization algorithm (ECM) by Meng and Rubin (1993) by motivating it from a typical example. I’ll also add some thoughts about other natural considerations at the end.

Let $n$ observations $y_1,\ldots,y_n\sim\mathcal{N}(X_i\beta, \Sigma)$ be sampled i.i.d. where $X_i$’s are given features for each $i$. Let both the linear coefficients $\beta$ and the covariance $\Sigma$ be unknown, and say for each $y_i$ only some values are observed, i.e., there exists missing data. Partition the observations $Y=(Y_{obs},Y_{mis})$, where $Y_{obs}$ represents all those observed and $Y_{mis}$ the missing data.

Now consider the problem of calculating the maximum likelihood estimate (MLE) of $\theta=(\beta,\Sigma)$. This has no closed form expression, so let’s consider the EM algorithm (Dempster et al., 1977) instead:

1. Initialize $\theta^{(0)}=(\beta^{(0)},\Sigma^{(0)})$.
2. While $\theta$ has not converged, i.e., $\|\theta^{(t+1)}-\theta^{(t)}\|/\|\theta^{(t)}\|\le\epsilon$:
1. E-step: Calculate expectation of the sufficient statistics, conditional on observed data and current parameter values:

$\mathbb{E}[Y_i\mid Y_{obs}, \beta^{(t)}, \Sigma^{(t)}],\qquad \mathbb{E}[Y_iY_i^T\mid Y_{obs}, \beta^{(t)}, \Sigma^{(t)}]$

1. M-step: Substitute the above into expressions for the sufficient statistics

ECM is a natural consideration for EM, which replaces the maximization step over one’s parameters of interest by conditioning on a subset of these parameters

PxEM is a way of incorporating additional information into one’s estimate by modifying the current parameters based on some set of constraints you know must be true.

Intuitively, I see the advantage of this variant in the same way the Stein’s estimator dominates the MLE for the trivial example of three observations sampled i.i.d. from a normal $y_i\sim \mathcal{N}(\mu_i, 1)$, where $\mu_i$’s are unknown for $i=1,2,3$. It is easy to see that the MLE is $\mu_i^{MLE} = y_i$. However, this estimator is inadmissable; it is dominated by the estimate … While this seems paradoxical, what is really happening is the underlying truth that all observations are sampled from a normal distribution with the same variance. By taking advantage of the fact that all observations share this attribute, you can obtain a better estimate by introducing dependencies.

• Arthur Dempster, Nan Laird, and Donald Rubin. Maximum likelihood from incomplete data via the EM algorithm. Journal of the Royal Statistical Society, Series B 39 (1): 1–38, 1977.
• Xiao-Li Meng and Donald Rubin. Maximum likelihood estimation via the ECM algorithm: a general framework. Biometrika, 80 (2): 267–278, 1993.