ergodicity of approximate MCMC chains with applications to large datasets
Another arXived paper I read on my way to Warwick! And yet another paper written by my friend Natesh Pillai (and his co-author Aaron Smith, from Ottawa). The goal of the paper is to study the ergodicity and the degree of approximation of the true posterior distribution of approximate MCMC algorithms that recently flourished as an answer to “Big Data” issues… [Comments below are about the second version of this paper.] One of the most curious results in the paper is the fact that the approximation may prove better than the original kernel, in terms of computing costs! If asymptotically in the computing cost. There also are acknowledged connections with the approximative MCMC kernel of Pierre Alquier, Neal Friel, Richard Everitt and A Boland, briefly mentioned in an earlier post.
The paper starts with a fairly theoretical part, to follow with an application to austerity sampling [and, in the earlier version of the paper, to the Hoeffding bounds of Bardenet et al., both discussed earlier on the ‘Og, to exponential random graphs (the paper being rather terse on the description of the subsampling mechanism), to stochastic gradient Langevin dynamics (by Max Welling and Yee-Whye Teh), and to ABC-MCMC]. The assumptions are about the transition kernels of a reference Markov kernel and of one associated with the approximation, imposing some bounds on the Wasserstein distance between those kernels, K and K’. Results being generic, there is no constraint as to how K is chosen or on how K’ is derived from K. Except in Lemma 3.6 and in the application section, where the same proposal kernel L is used for both Metropolis-Hastings algorithms K and K’. While I understand this makes for an easier coupling of the kernels, this also sounds like a restriction to me in that modifying the target begs for a similar modification in the proposal, if only because the tails they are a-changin’…
In the case of subsampling the likelihood to gain computation time (as discussed by Korattikara et al. and by Bardenet et al.), the austerity algorithm as described in Algorithm 2 is surprising as the average of the sampled data log-densities and the log-transform of the remainder of the Metropolis-Hastings probability, which seem unrelated, are compared until they are close enough. I also find hard to derive from the different approximation theorems bounding exceedance probabilities a rule to decide on the subsampling rate as a function of the overall sample size and of the computing cost. (As a side if general remark, I remain somewhat reserved about the subsampling idea, given that it requires the entire dataset to be available at every iteration. This makes parallel implementations rather difficult to contemplate.)