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Learning Unnormalized Statistical Models via Compositional Optimization

Wei Jiang · Jiayu Qin · Lingyu Wu · Changyou Chen · Tianbao Yang · Lijun Zhang

Exhibit Hall 1 #410


Learning unnormalized statistical models (e.g., energy-based models) is computationally challenging due to the complexity of handling the partition function. To eschew this complexity, noise-contrastive estimation (NCE) has been proposed by formulating the objective as the logistic loss of the real data and the artificial noise. However, as found in previous works, NCE may perform poorly in many tasks due to its flat loss landscape and slow convergence. In this paper, we study a direct approach for optimizing the negative log-likelihood of unnormalized models from the perspective of compositional optimization. To tackle the partition function, a noise distribution is introduced such that the log partition function can be written as a compositional function whose inner function can be estimated with stochastic samples. Hence, the objective can be optimized by stochastic compositional optimization algorithms. Despite being a simple method, we demonstrate that it is more favorable than NCE by (1) establishing a fast convergence rate and quantifying its dependence on the noise distribution through the variance of stochastic estimators; (2) developing better results for one-dimensional Gaussian mean estimation by showing our objective has a much favorable loss landscape and hence our method enjoys faster convergence; (3) demonstrating better performance on multiple applications, including density estimation, out-of-distribution detection, and real image generation.

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