Conditional random fields (CRFs) are a probabilistic framework for labeling and segmenting structured data, such as sequences, trees and lattices. The underlying idea is that of defining a conditional probability distribution over label sequences given a particular observation sequence, rather than a joint distribution over both label and observation sequences. The primary advantage of CRFs over hidden Markov models is their conditional nature, resulting in the relaxation of the independence assumptions required by HMMs in order to ensure tractable inference. Additionally, CRFs avoid the label bias problem, a weakness exhibited by maximum entropy Markov models (MEMMs) and other conditional Markov models based on directed graphical models. CRFs outperform both MEMMs and HMMs on a number of real-world tasks in many fields, including bioinformatics, computational linguistics and speech recognition.
Hanna M. Wallach. Conditional Random Fields: An Introduction. Technical Report MS-CIS-04-21. Department of Computer and Information Science, University of Pennsylvania, 2004.