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Surrogate Likelihoods for Variational Annealed Importance Sampling

Martin Jankowiak · Du Phan

Room 301 - 303


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.

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