optimisation via slice sampling

simulated annealing path on a multimodal surface (c) Robert and Casella, 2007This morning, over breakfast; I read the paper recently arXived by John Birge et Nick Polson. I was intrigued by the combination of optimisation and of slice sampling, but got a wee disappointed by the paper, in that it proposes a simple form of simulated annealing, minimising f(x) by targeting a small collection of energy functions exp{-τf(x)}. Indeed, the slice sampler is used to explore each of those targets, i.e. for a fixed temperature τ. For the four functions considered in the paper, a slice sampler can indeed be implemented, but this feature could be seen as a marginalia, given that a random walk Metropolis-Hastings algorithm could be used as a proposal mechanism in other cases. The other intriguing fact is that annealing is not used in the traditional way of increasing the coefficient τ along iterations (as in our SAME algorithm), for which convergence issues are much more intricate, but instead stays at the level where a whole (Markov) sample is used for each temperature, the outcomes being then compared in terms of localisation (and maybe for starting at the next temperature value). I did not see any discussion about the selection of the successive temperatures, which usually is a delicate issue in realistic settings, nor of the stopping rule(s) used to decide the maximum has been reached.

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