Stochastic process

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In probability theory, a stochastic process, or sometimes random process, is the counterpart to a deterministic process (or deterministic system). Instead of dealing with only one possible reality of how the process might evolve under time (as is the case, for example, for solutions of an ordinary differential equation), in a stochastic or random process there is some indeterminacy in its future evolution described by probability distributions. This means that even if the initial condition (or starting point) is known, there are many possibilities the process might go to, but some paths may be more probable and others less so.

In the simplest possible case (discrete time), a stochastic process amounts to a sequence of random variables known as a time series (for example, see Markov chain). Another basic type of a stochastic process is a random field, whose domain is a region of space, in other words, a random function whose arguments are drawn from a range of continuously changing values. One approach to stochastic processes treats them as functions of one or several deterministic arguments (inputs, in most cases regarded as time) whose values (outputs) are random variables: non-deterministic (single) quantities which have certain probability distributions. Random variables corresponding to various times (or points, in the case of random fields) may be completely different. The main requirement is that these different random quantities all have the same type.[1] Although the random values of a stochastic process at different times may be independent random variables, in most commonly considered situations they exhibit complicated statistical correlations.

Familiar examples of processes modeled as stochastic time series include stock market and exchange rate fluctuations, signals such as speech, audio and video, medical data such as a patient's EKG, EEG, blood pressure or temperature, and random movement such as Brownian motion or random walks. Examples of random fields include static images, random terrain (landscapes), or composition variations of an heterogeneous material.


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