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PM: Variational Inference/Bayesian Models and Methods

Room 301 - 303

Moderator: Javier Antorán

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Wed 20 July 7:30 - 7:50 PDT

How Tempering Fixes Data Augmentation in Bayesian Neural Networks

Gregor Bachmann · Lorenzo Noci · Thomas Hofmann

While Bayesian neural networks (BNNs) provide a sound and principled alternative to standard neural networks, an artificial sharpening of the posterior usually needs to be applied to reach comparable performance. This is in stark contrast to theory, dictating that given an adequate prior and a well-specified model, the untempered Bayesian posterior should achieve optimal performance. Despite the community's extensive efforts, the observed gains in performance still remain disputed with several plausible causes pointing at its origin. While data augmentation has been empirically recognized as one of the main drivers of this effect, a theoretical account of its role, on the other hand, is largely missing. In this work we identify two interlaced factors concurrently influencing the strength of the cold posterior effect, namely the correlated nature of augmentations and the degree of invariance of the employed model to such transformations. By theoretically analyzing simplified settings, we prove that tempering implicitly reduces the misspecification arising from modeling augmentations as i.i.d. data. The temperature mimics the role of the effective sample size, reflecting the gain in information provided by the augmentations. We corroborate our theoretical findings with extensive empirical evaluations, scaling to realistic BNNs. By relying on the framework of group convolutions, we experiment with models of varying inherent degree of invariance, confirming its hypothesized relationship with the optimal temperature.

Wed 20 July 7:50 - 7:55 PDT

Surrogate Likelihoods for Variational Annealed Importance Sampling

Martin Jankowiak · Du Phan

Variational inference is a powerful paradigm for approximate Bayesian inference with a number of appealing properties, including support for model learning and data subsampling. By contrast MCMC methods like Hamiltonian Monte Carlo do not share these properties but remain attractive since, contrary to parametric methods, MCMC is asymptotically unbiased. For these reasons researchers have sought to combine the strengths of both classes of algorithms, with recent approaches coming closer to realizing this vision in practice. However, supporting data subsampling in these hybrid methods can be a challenge, a shortcoming that we address by introducing a surrogate likelihood that can be learned jointly with other variational parameters. We argue theoretically that the resulting algorithm allows an intuitive trade-off between inference fidelity and computational cost. In an extensive empirical comparison we show that our method performs well in practice and that it is well-suited for black-box inference in probabilistic programming frameworks.

Wed 20 July 7:55 - 8:00 PDT

Nonparametric Sparse Tensor Factorization with Hierarchical Gamma Processes

Conor Tillinghast · Zheng Wang · Shandian Zhe

We propose a nonparametric factorization approach for sparsely observed tensors. The sparsity does not mean zero-valued entries are massive or dominated. Rather, it implies the observed entries are very few, and even fewer with the growth of the tensor; this is ubiquitous in practice. Compared with the existent works, our model not only leverages the structural information underlying the observed entry indices, but also provides extra interpretability and flexibility — it can simultaneously estimate a set of location factors about the intrinsic properties of the tensor nodes, and another set of sociability factors reflecting their extrovert activity in interacting with others; users are free to choose a trade-off between the two types of factors. Specifically, we use hierarchical Gamma processes and Poisson random measures to construct a tensor-valued process, which can freely sample the two types of factors to generate tensors and always guarantees an asymptotic sparsity. We then normalize the tensor process to obtain hierarchical Dirichlet processes to sample each observed entry index, and use a Gaussian process to sample the entry value as a nonlinear function of the factors, so as to capture both the sparse structure properties and complex node relationships. For efficient inference, we use Dirichlet process properties over finite sample partitions, density transformations, and random features to develop a stochastic variational estimation algorithm. We demonstrate the advantage of our method in several benchmark datasets.

Wed 20 July 8:00 - 8:05 PDT

Fat–Tailed Variational Inference with Anisotropic Tail Adaptive Flows

Feynman Liang · Michael Mahoney · Liam Hodgkinson

While fat-tailed densities commonly arise as posterior and marginal distributions in robust models and scale mixtures, they present a problematic scenario when Gaussian-based variational inference fails to accurately capture tail decay. We first improve previous theory on tails of Lipschitz flows by quantifying how they affect the rate of tail decay and expanding the theory to non-Lipschitz polynomial flows. Next, we develop an alternative theory for multivariate tail parameters which is sensitive to tail-anisotropy. In doing so, we unveil a fundamental problem which plagues many existing flow-based methods: they can only model tail-isotropic distributions (i.e., distributions having the same tail parameter in every direction). To mitigate this and enable modeling of tail-anisotropic targets, we propose anisotropic tail-adaptive flows (ATAF). Experimental results confirm ATAF on both synthetic and real-world targets is competitive with prior work while also exhibiting appropriate tail-anisotropy.

Wed 20 July 8:05 - 8:10 PDT

Variational Sparse Coding with Learned Thresholding

Kion Fallah · Christopher Rozell

Sparse coding strategies have been lauded for their parsimonious representations of data that leverage low dimensional structure. However, inference of these codes typically relies on an optimization procedure with poor computational scaling in high-dimensional problems. For example, sparse inference in the representations learned in the high-dimensional intermediary layers of deep neural networks (DNNs) requires an iterative minimization to be performed at each training step. As such, recent, quick methods in variational inference have been proposed to infer sparse codes by learning a distribution over the codes with a DNN. In this work, we propose a new approach to variational sparse coding that allows us to learn sparse distributions by thresholding samples, avoiding the use of problematic relaxations. We first evaluate and analyze our method by training a linear generator, showing that it has superior performance, statistical efficiency, and gradient estimation compared to other sparse distributions. We then compare to a standard variational autoencoder using a DNN generator on the CelebA dataset.

Wed 20 July 8:10 - 8:15 PDT

Structured Stochastic Gradient MCMC

Antonios Alexos · Alex Boyd · Stephan Mandt

Stochastic gradient Markov Chain Monte Carlo (SGMCMC) is a scalable algorithm for asymptotically exact Bayesian inference in parameter-rich models, such as Bayesian neural networks. However, since mixing can be slow in high dimensions, practitioners often resort to variational inference (VI). Unfortunately, VI makes strong assumptions on both the factorization and functional form of the posterior. To relax these assumptions, this work proposes a new non-parametric variational inference scheme that combines ideas from both SGMCMC and coordinate-ascent VI. The approach relies on a new Langevin-type algorithm that operates on a "self-averaged" posterior energy function, where parts of the latent variables are averaged over samples from earlier iterations of the Markov chain. This way, statistical dependencies between coordinates can be broken in a controlled way, allowing the chain to mix faster. This scheme can be further modified in a "dropout" manner, leading to even more scalability. We test our scheme for ResNet-20 on CIFAR-10, SVHN, and FMNIST. In all cases, we find improvements in convergence speed and/or final accuracy compared to SGMCMC and parametric VI.

Wed 20 July 8:15 - 8:35 PDT

BAMDT: Bayesian Additive Semi-Multivariate Decision Trees for Nonparametric Regression

Zhao Tang Luo · Huiyan Sang · Bani Mallick

Bayesian additive regression trees (BART; Chipman et al., 2010) have gained great popularity as a flexible nonparametric function estimation and modeling tool. Nearly all existing BART models rely on decision tree weak learners with axis-parallel univariate split rules to partition the Euclidean feature space into rectangular regions. In practice, however, many regression problems involve features with multivariate structures (e.g., spatial locations) possibly lying in a manifold, where rectangular partitions may fail to respect irregular intrinsic geometry and boundary constraints of the structured feature space. In this paper, we develop a new class of Bayesian additive multivariate decision tree models that combine univariate split rules for handling possibly high dimensional features without known multivariate structures and novel multivariate split rules for features with multivariate structures in each weak learner. The proposed multivariate split rules are built upon stochastic predictive spanning tree bipartition models on reference knots, which are capable of achieving highly flexible nonlinear decision boundaries on manifold feature spaces while enabling efficient dimension reduction computations. We demonstrate the superior performance of the proposed method using simulation data and a Sacramento housing price data set.

Wed 20 July 8:35 - 8:40 PDT

Variational Inference with Locally Enhanced Bounds for Hierarchical Models

Tomas Geffner · Justin Domke

Hierarchical models represent a challenging setting for inference algorithms. MCMC methods struggle to scale to large models with many local variables and observations, and variational inference (VI) may fail to provide accurate approximations due to the use of simple variational families. Some variational methods (e.g. importance weighted VI) integrate Monte Carlo methods to give better accuracy, but these tend to be unsuitable for hierarchical models, as they do not allow for subsampling and their performance tends to degrade for high dimensional models. We propose a new family of variational bounds for hierarchical models, based on the application of tightening methods (e.g. importance weighting) separately for each group of local random variables. We show that our approach naturally allows the use of subsampling to get unbiased gradients, and that it fully leverages the power of methods that build tighter lower bounds by applying them independently in lower dimensional spaces, leading to better results and more accurate posterior approximations than relevant baselines.

Wed 20 July 8:40 - 8:45 PDT

Centroid Approximation for Bootstrap: Improving Particle Quality at Inference

Mao Ye · Qiang Liu

Bootstrap is a principled and powerful frequentist statistical tool for uncertainty quantification. Unfortunately, standard bootstrap methods are computationally intensive due to the need of drawing a large i.i.d. bootstrap sample to approximate the ideal bootstrap distribution; this largely hinders their application in large-scale machine learning, especially deep learning problems. In this work, we propose an efficient method to explicitly \emph{optimize} a small set of high quality ``centroid'' points to better approximate the ideal bootstrap distribution. We achieve this by minimizing a simple objective function that is asymptotically equivalent to the Wasserstein distance to the ideal bootstrap distribution. This allows us to provide an accurate estimation of uncertainty with a small number of bootstrap centroids, outperforming the naive i.i.d. sampling approach. Empirically, we show that our method can boost the performance of bootstrap in a variety of applications.

Wed 20 July 8:45 - 8:50 PDT

Deep Reference Priors: What is the best way to pretrain a model?

Yansong Gao · Rahul Ramesh · Pratik Chaudhari

What is the best way to exploit extra data -- be it unlabeled data from the same task, or labeled data from a related task -- to learn a given task? This paper formalizes the question using the theory of reference priors. Reference priors are objective, uninformative Bayesian priors that maximize the mutual information between the task and the weights of the model. Such priors enable the task to maximally affect the Bayesian posterior, e.g., reference priors depend upon the number of samples available for learning the task and for very small sample sizes, the prior puts more probability mass on low-complexity models in the hypothesis space. This paper presents the first demonstration of reference priors for medium-scale deep networks and image-based data. We develop generalizations of reference priors and demonstrate applications to two problems. First, by using unlabeled data to compute the reference prior, we develop new Bayesian semi-supervised learning methods that remain effective even with very few samples per class. Second, by using labeled data from the source task to compute the reference prior, we develop a new pretraining method for transfer learning that allows data from the target task to maximally affect the Bayesian posterior. Empirical validation of these methods is conducted on image classification datasets. Code is available at